Writer’s Eye: The Future of Books

I attended a Wall Street Journal discussion in Manhattan last night. The topic of discussion was “The Future of Books”- specifically in relation to the new e-book trend.

A couple of points I want to make:

wsjThe panel, (regardless of their being for or against e-books,) generally acknowledged or seemed to agree that e-books would eventually dominate the literary marketplace . I believe, however, that e-books are just a fashion trend and impermanent. I think that the technology trends, which currently favor all of the conveniences, portability, and glam of e-book readers (Nook, Kindle, Sony’s e-book reader) and more importantly tablet devices (iPad, XOOM, Playbook, etc.) is creating a self sustaining atmosphere for e-books. However, when the technology becomes more mainstream, e-books will largely disappear from readerships and literary circles.

I believe that e-books will end up as a novelty. They will certainly have their use: on vacations where carrying many books becomes inconvenient, on long car trips where the abilities of the multi tasking device might lend themselves to literature at some point, and in similar environments were books seem less practical. I just can’t imagine a readership that is “won over” by electronic books.

The reason I think this is based largely on my own human experience. As an english major, there is so much an e-book would have deprived me of. First of all, I’d never be able to buy a used book- instead, I’d only be able to see the comments *everyone* has for particular things. Secondly, I would never have the “joy” of a page being ripped out. Think about being directed to a particular page in a poetry anthology. Now think about that page being torn out. In place of it, you might find another poem that a teacher was not concerned with. That poem might change the way you read literature forever. And that magical moment would be lost forever if e-books took over in the classrooms.

However, I do think e-books will have a niche in the future. It does not, however, lie with avid readers. Instead, I imagine that e-books and e-book readers will be utilized in poor urban environments, where cost is important. They are cheaper in the long run, take up less space, and can do more things than normal books to sustain the interest of children who are not emphasized the importance of reading. That value will be huge, because it will foster continued and interactive learning, which has proven to be vital to reaching children in underprivileged areas.

Beyond that, however, e-books will seldom be thought of. Tablets will continue to explode, and then their popularity will level out. When that happens, it is likely that every family will have at least one. But it’ll be like your brother or sister’s gameboy. It will rest quietly, and be used in situations of need. I think that the book is safe. Nothing digital can replace the satisfaction of turning a page, browsing a book store, the satisfaction of closing a book, or the excitement of opening one. Nothing can replace the smell of fresh pages, and nothing can replace the smell of old and worn pages. Nothing will incite rage like a book burning, and nothing can be banned if it’s on the internet.

No, the book is here to stay. It is safe. Every single opponent of books and what they stand for- every person or thing that has tried to thwart books has failed.