Shadowland: Reflections on eBooks

April 5th, 2010

mgmason-2Prompted by Apple’s release of the ipad I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about the future of ebooks – in general, and for me personally. There is no question in my mind that ebooks will be part of the future, specifically of my future. But for now something is holding me back.

On the plus side I love the idea of being able to travel with dozens, even hundreds, of books in a lightweight, compact package. After all, you never know what you may want to read at any given moment.

On the negative side, current ebook policies ignore the social context in which reading takes place. You may read in solitude but reading is a decidedly social act. When we read a provocative book we want to discuss it. When we discover a new author we want to share his or her books with family and friends. Currently the ability to share ebooks is limited — with limitations that vary by the reader you choose to purchase.

In addition, you never really buy the book – just the right to read the book. An important technicality that generated waves of outrage last year when Amazon famously erased purchased copies of George Orwell’s “1984” from Kindle devices. A fine irony.

Speaking of ironies, the craziness in digital book policies takes place while social networking sites of all stripes are exploding. So it gets easier to tweet about trivia and harder to share substantive ideas.

So what’s a reader to do? This reader at least has decided to wait and hope for some sanity. My money will go to ebook producers who recognize the important social context of books and reading and let me continue to share my books with family and friends.


2 Responses to “Shadowland: Reflections on eBooks”

  1. Christi Gell says:

    Interesting thoughts. I agree with the shareablility of books – Girl w/the dragon tattoo is making its rounds here :-)

  2. Melinda Salata says:

    I bought a Kindle and I really enjoy it. At the same time, it does not give the full pleasure of the book as object–the cover, the carefully chosen fonts (the Kindle, for instance, has only one font). I assume such issues will change with new generations of e-books. But here is something one does not think of: how often have you noticed the book someone else is reading sitting next to you on the metro, the plane, or at a restaurant? Such sightings give us ideas of what’s popular, what we might want to read next, or just a lovely invitation into a conversation with a stranger about a book we both love.. With an e-book, you can’t tell what the person is reading–a small issue, but indeed a social aspect of books that will be lost as e-books increase in popularity.