I have been, like the rest of the connected world, bombarded with news of the iPad, the new product released by © Apple computers yesterday, that is a cross between an ipod and a macbook. The hype was so great that twitter (if you don’t know what twitter is, I don’t know how to help you right now) had to shut some functions down to avoid the overburdening of the network (the famous failwhale) with all the traffic about the iPad. Now, you could ask, what is the world coming to, if a product, a digital tablet and e-book reader, is causing all this hoopla, while Obama’s State of the Union address did not generate a fraction of that following or interest. The singer, John Mayer (@johncmayer), tweeted on his site, that maybe Obama’s address should have included the unveiling of a gadget at the end of it, to generate more interest. Funny. But sad at the same time.
Yet it is the sign of our times, our obsession with technical advancement, with new gadgets and gizmos, with everything that is cutting edge and sleek and can do so many more things than we ever dreamt of being possible as long ago as last year. The world has never witnessed such a meteoric growth in technological advances as it did in the past few decades. It is like we are living in the science fiction movies that were dreamt up in the last century (one astronaut that I am following on twitter is actually tweeting in real-time from the International Space Station-he ate fajitas yesterday! Probably in pill form).
Who would have thought that so many millions will be reading a collection of the morning papers from around the world on their laptop while sipping their coffee at their kitchen table and slowly eating their papaya? That’s what I did this morning. I read the Lebanese, Swiss, French and British paper headlines digitally. This practice has eliminated the ink on my fingers while reading the traditional paper and struggling to fold it right to get to page 5 without creasing the whole thing and uttering angry exclamations that I wouldn’t want the kids to hear. I like digital newspapers, they give you a broad view of the news, from different perspectives, different takes on the same event, and good analysis from different sources from across the political divide.
Now on to books. The new iPad, like the kindle from amazon, is revolutionizing the way we read books. E-books have been on the market for a while now, and google is aiming to digitize almost all books in existence, so that the selection will be boundless. New books that are being written now, will most likely be available first and foremost in digital format with a print on demand function. I think it is a good thing that thousands and thousands of books are not printed uselessly every time a book is out, to be in turn mulched at the expanse of countless trees we cannot afford to be losing from an ailing earth with an environmental problem that could potentially render life very difficult on the planet. From the climate change angle, digital books are great.
There is, however, the aspect of the emotional connection we have with books, holding a book, feeling the pages, dog-earing them, flipping them, using a bookmark we love, finding a book worm (ha) that will be hard to replace with a digital reader. Yet the fact remains that it is very practical to take all your book collection with you on vacation or a business trip if you wish without the extra weight and the space in your luggage. I once went to Koh Samui in Thailand for a spa-meditation break (of course with my luck I arrived one day before the Asian Tsunami hit), and I had taken a dozen books with me to read. I read them all, and to avoid the extra weight in the luggage (owing to excessive shopping in Thai markets-mostly T-shirts of “same-same, but different”), I had to throw the books or give them away before I left. These were books I wanted to keep, but now with the digital gadgets, I can keep every book I read, for future reference, for highlighting passages I like, or for the hell of it.
People usually resist change. I think when the shift was made from stone tablets to scrolls, a lot of disgruntled people talked about the feel of the stone, running your fingers on the etched word, smelling the stone. But everybody eventually switched, for the practicality reason alone. Those tablets must have been heavy, no? Almost like books in luggage. And when scrolls were abandoned for books, I am certain a lot of people complained about the feel of the rolled-up scroll, the smell, blah blah, and yet the world shifted to print. Now that the digital age is here, a lot of what we read is already in digital format-provided you live in a part of the world where a) you have computers AND electricity, and b) the connection is decent so as not to give you an embolism while you wait for a page to download. So, after newspapers, memos, reports, files, presentations, basically everything we deal with and research has become digitized, google-ized, wikipedia-ized, the natural next step is books. If it makes a small dent in our environmental management of the earth’s precious resources and if it makes the industrialized world cut less trees for its books, then that’s an added plus, don’t you think?
There will always be libraries, and books, and charming book stores – in Chelsea, Quartier Latin, New York, Geneva, and wherever beautiful old book stores exist. There will always be the aficionados of old books, much like old vinyl records enthusiasts, but the sign of the times is the binary 1 and 0, get with it.
Next step for helping climate change, travel by plane less, and eliminate low cost airlines that encourage excessive plane commutes. But that’s the subject of another blog, when I get the nerve to write about my fear of flying. I know I fly everywhere, but I hate it. Okay, you can stop rolling your eyes now.