So far, the most frequently used justification against the use of e-books has been primarily one of nostalgia. “You can’t replace that friendly weight of a book in your hands,” says An Avid Reader. And there really hasn’t been much to persuade An Avid Reader to give it a try. Until now. Sony is teaming up with Pennsylvania State University to try to figure out just what they have to do to get readers to buy their product, particularly students. Gill & Macmillan, the Irish book publisher, and Caritas College, Ballyfermot are taking it one step further by requiring the 18 student freshman class to buy and use an iLiad for all reading, note taking, and absentminded doodling. As a bonus, they will receive 50 classic novels pre installed on their iLiads. Their e books were designed especially by iRex Technologies in the Netherlands to mimic the ink and paper feel of paper books and to reduce and/or eliminate the glare of a screen associated with computers and laptops. The e books can hold up to 256MB of information and come with 1GB of extra memory in the form of a flash drive. It sounds like these girls won’t even need to buy a backpack. For only €600 they have all their school shopping done; pens, pencils, paper, textbooks, novels, and dictionaries are all on this handheld device.
As a student, I can come up with at least a handful of legitimate concerns that this raises. Once the memory is full, will an entire textbook fit on a flashdrive? Will they sell books as flashdrives eventually? What measures are in place to prevent a system crash? Is there some kind of insurance against losing memory? I’m sure the most anal retentive of those 18 girls is not going to be able to sleep unless she knows that her information is secure and that her work won’t suddenly disappear because her e book slipped off her desk. How often do they have to be replaced? How durable are they? Will the files for books still be the same ungodly price even though there is next to no overhead with the e book? Mom always did say never to put all my eggs in one basket and even financial gurus are advocates of diversity. WHAT ASSURANCE DO I HAVE THAT I WON’T LOSE EVERYTHING???!!! Also, what programs will be put in place to insure that socio-economically disadvantaged students will not be left in the dust? Will companies offer rebates or discounts to urban schools (assuming that e books will eventually make it into public school systems)? Is this something that young children can be trusted to handle unsupervised?
And here are the pros. It’s green. Can you imagine how many trees will be saved every year just because students have started using a different medium for their work? With that much oxygen NOT being taken from the atmosphere, maybe we could stave off the climate shift. (And while we’re at it, not destroy the natural habitats of endangered species and cultures!). And I know I would personally save lots of money in moving costs. I probably have about 4-500 books in my room alone (no, I’m not exaggerating), and more in storage. There’s something horribly unromantic about replacing them with wires and screens, but wow, I’d have a lot more room to move around.
What will become of the e book, no one can really tell at this point, but it seems to be getting more attention these days. What we should keep in mind is that even though novelty is sometimes unnerving, it doesn’t make it bad. At the same time, it doesn’t make it the right thing to do either. Progress for the sake of Progress has usually proved disastrous, after all.