Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unplugged

I’m in Craster, Northumberland with no phone signal or Internet connection. Without warning, I’ve found myself plunged into 1979. It was awkward at first, and I went through the usual stages of denial, anger, bargaining, etc. before arriving at acceptance. The thing was, I had plans to keep up on my e-mails and do some posting to my blogs in real-time while I was here, and instead I’m going to disappear without a trace. How is everyone going to get along without me? I soon realized, however, they would do just fine, and that my anxiety stemmed merely from an exaggerated sense of my own self-importance.

So I learned to embrace my solitude, and came to understand just how ephemeral the Internet is, which leads into what I wanted to talk about in the first place: E-Books.

Craster Castle: no toilets, no Internet Café.

There is a lot of talk about e-books being the wave of the future and taking off in a big way. I have my doubts--I think they will become more popular, but I do not believe they are the future of literature--and my conclusion is based on the very argument people have in favor of e-books.

VHS, they say, took off only after a format (i.e. not beta) was settled on. DVDs followed, and MP3 players. So the current reticence in adopting e-books is only temporary until a format is settled upon. But people who watch TV like to be able to choose when they see a show, and listening to an MP3 player is a lot more convenient then carrying around a phonograph. People who like to read, however, also tend to like books.

I know; I'm one of them. I like the texture, the feel, the weight of a book in my hands. I like to be able to write in the margins if it pleases me, and to throw a £7.99 paperback into my rucksack and take it camping with me, something I would be hesitant to do with a £400 Kindle.

I like browsing books, collecting books, and seeing them on my bookshelves. I like lending books to others or leaving them behind for others to find. I like the fact that there are no batteries required or technology that can fail. An e-book is not better than a book, it is a poor, ephemeral substitute.

I've heard it said that if you publish something on the Internet it is there forever. Define forever. We have clay tablets from the Babylonians, manuscripts from the middle ages--that is the closest we are going to come to permanent. The Internet is there only until, as my plight at the moment demonstrates, the plug is pulled.

The Internet is the most laissez faire, unpredictable, temporary thing every invented; and it is made up of a loose collection of privately owned servers all over the world that will be there only as long as the owners decide they want to keep them. If everyone suddenly got tired of it, it would disappear in an instant.

Also, and this is my own prejudice but I don't think I'm alone, once material is put into an electronic format, its value depreciates.

If someone "publishes" an e-book, it is not regarded as a real book. If someone writes for the web, they are paid (if at all) a fraction of what they would get if they were published in a printed magazine. Electronic words do not, in a literal sense, exist, and are therefore not as highly valued.

If you want something dependable, you get a real book, because technology can fail. And as I’m sitting here with no Internet connection and no way to contact anybody or download anything to read, I think I’ve proved my point.

So I think I’ll spend my time enjoying the solitude and appreciating the lessons this week of non-connectivity is teaching.

2 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree with you more!

    Books are so wonderful, comforting, they sit on the shelves beaming out their titles, begging to be re-read, fondled, taken to a favourite chair and curled up with again and again. The thought of e-books, is like thinking of a robot to snuggle up to, all cold and unfeeling. Yuk!
    Love Granny

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  2. It's just not the same, is it?

    ReplyDelete