To E-book or Not to E-book?

I have never been on the forefront of technology. I listened to records well into the nineties, didn’t establish myself on the internet until 2001, got my first cellphone in 2005, and an MP3 player the year later (when my first CD player finally gave out after 13 years of good use). I use my electronics until they wear out, or, as in the case of my last three i-pods, I lose them. Much to the chagrin of my husband, who has been begging for a new 70 in plasma screen TV for years. Why, I ask, when the 32 in flat screen my mom bought on Target Clearance for my first apartment works perfectly well?

But despite my frugality and technophobia, I am not immune to culture. I finally succumbed to the Apple Craze, though not until my Compact died its second death and I no longer had the inclination to attempt a resurrection. And I’ve been tempted towards a smartphone recently, though I’m the only Gen-Yer I know who feels at best indifferent towards my cellphone. It is the only technology I adapted even later than my parents, and even now I never text if I can avoid it. I would describe my attitude toward the device as crotchety, but I somehow think that having unlimited access to the internet could soften my resolve and even make the exchange of short, mindless, grammar-ridden messages more palatable.

Recently, I’ve even been tempted towards the E-Reader. Suddenly everyone’s got one. People who don’t even consider themselves readers are taking them up as the hot new thing. And aren’t we going that way? Towards a day when everything will exist on a screen, and won’t that be somehow better for the environment, or the trees, at the very least. They can exist and we can read, and won’t Al Gore be happy? This isn’t like TV or music or staying in constant communication with people, I love, love, love to read. Having constant access to any book I want at any time could actually be valuable.

Think, for instance, of all the space I could save in my backpack on vacation if I didn’t have to lug around ten novels. Think of the lack of anxiety I would feel before a trip, not having to worry that I will finish three of my novels and not really be in the mood for any of the remaining seven, and thus have to spend the rest of my vacation slugging through a boring book.  Think of the recent cut-back in library times, so that there is approximately a two-hour a week window in which I could possibly make it in to browse and make a selection for the up-coming week. Consider the fines that have been mounting from the holds that went past due because I could not make it in on time. Think of the trees that were sacrificed to produce my mound of magazines.

I so was convinced of my need for an E-reader, I didn’t know how I had existed so long without one, when I went to Best Buy to actually try out the Kindle 3G — the E-reader, I had determined from extensive work-slacking internet research, was for me! But when I finally held it in my hands I was disappointed. Was it the way the pages didn’t exactly fit the screen? Was it the dreary black and white of the screen? The hardness of the metal in my hands? Or was it just that I couldn’t quite figure out how to navigate the thing and ended up skipping through five chapters of The Wizard of Oz, and then unable to find my way back to the home screen, and when I finally did, accidentally flipping the screen to landscape view.

I thought, “I’m not going to want to read this!” But, having thought of myself, for perhaps the first time, if not on, then at least near the forefront of technology (the E-reader’s only been available for what, five years?) I was unwilling to consign myself back to the Dark-Ages so quickly. I went across the street to the Barnes and Noble where the new Nook Color was on display at the front of the store. I flipped through a few pages The DaVinci Code, but I was not feeling the jolt of excitement I normally feel when I pick up a new novel, and it wasn’t just Dan Brown’s laborious prose at fault. Disappointed, I put the Nook back on the display, and then I did what I normally do when I find myself in a large collection of books, I wondered through the store running my fingers over the covers, picking up the ones that interested me and flipping through them. They felt familiar; they felt good; they were my friends. I knew if I took them home and spent some time with them, they would open up a new world for me, and I didn’t need anymore technology to access it than what I already possessed.

Photo by Ninha Morandini