Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Sony is releasing a new e-book reader that uses, well, "E ink"; it's called the (how do they think of these things?) Sony Reader. It actually sounds and looks pretty neat, and probably even useful. But does it mean books--the real kind--are on the way out? Apparently Terry Teachout thinks so:
Musing on the Sony Reader, critic Terry Teachout noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, that a book, for all its objective and subjective virtues, "is also a technology – a means, not an end. Like all technologies, it has a finite life span, and its time is almost up."

Ralph Bennet is a little more realistic, I think:
Even those who might not do all their reading on it would like to have a Sony Reader or some clone of it, just to have a tailor-made mini-library at hand. I, as a writer (of sorts) wouldn't mind having an easily portable brace of books ready to the touch – H.L. Mencken's New Dictionary of Quotations, W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of the Bible, the Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia, and the New York Public Library Book of Chronologies, to name a very few.

Some politician or journalist boning up for a debate on missile defense or asymmetrical warfare might like to have a Reader on the plane or in the Green Room. On a more mundane but no less useful level, take my favorite hot dog hangout, Beno's, in Ligonier, Pa. The proprietor, Pat Clark, keeps a little library of "bet settling" books on sports records, entertainment trivia etc. on the counter. They're propped up with a napkin holder and a ketchup bottle for book ends and they're always falling over and in the way. A Reader would take up less counter space and provide a wider variety of source material. Someday, every bartender will have one.

These devices could also be a boon to do-it-yourselfers, technicians and mechanics of every sort. Imagine having home repair, auto repair or other such manuals literally at your electronic fingertips, whether you're under a kitchen sink or the hood of a vintage Mustang. I suspect that just such specialized uses will provide one of the biggest markets for the Reader.

Just so. The death of the book keeps being proclaimed regularly, and while technology has made some inroads, and likely will continue to, I wouldn't schedule a book burning quite yet. Bennett again:
But, some technologies, like the wheel, have proven to have a very long life span, and books may prove mighty like a wheel. I know I'm marking myself as irredeemably old school. But, I'm a little uneasy envisioning a time when all the wisdom, folly, humor, beauty, ugliness etc. of the human condition, reflected in history and story, might repose in some micro-electro-digital Somewhere that can only be reached and breached by hand-held electronics.

What happens when we need the answer or the laugh or the inspiration, and the power goes out? Won't the pages of a book be practical and reassuring, even by candlelight?

Yes, somehow "E ink" just wouldn't be the same.

[Link via Instapundit]

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