I wanna be digital

Joe Konrath’s recent post, Digital Me, focuses on our collective love affair with home entertainment and its conversion to digital media. In particular, he talks about replacing much of his vast book collection with digital versions. I confess, ever since I bought my iPad, I’ve had urges to do the same.

Several hundred books collect dust on bookshelves throughout our house. I keep them  because I might want to read them again. Some day. Or because my daughters/husband may want to read them. Some day. In some cases, I keep them on hand only so I can steal the authors’ writing techniques.

Some of these books have not been opened in 10 years or more. Even so, I’ve always felt  the need to keep them around. Just in case.

And then I bought my iPad. You can collect an awful lot of books on a 16 gig iPad and they take no significant space in your house. I can loan books to my family’s e-readers. If that doesn’t work, I can loan the iPad itself (some restrictions apply, so don’t get ideas, children).

My books used to be shelved alphabetically to help me find a title easily. But then I ran out of space. Now I’ve got volumes crammed two deep on the shelves, with paperbacks wedged into the gaps any way they’ll fit. I only know where the oldest ones are. That’s because I haven’t moved them in years and they are still in alphabetical order behind the jumble.

I think I can squeeze a few more books on there...

And then I bought my iPad. All the reader apps have some sort of easily-searched contents listing. You can find your book and start reading just by touching an entry in the card catalog.

I used to read for hours on weekends and in the evenings. But I’ve been slowing down recently. I grow impatient and bored more easily, setting books aside to watch bad TV. Where I used to slog through at least half of a weak book before giving up on it, I now sometimes quit after just a chapter or two, even though the book cost me $8-$15.  I figured I must be getting pickier with age, that maybe books aren’t as good as they used to be.

And then . . . I bought my iPad. Yes, I still wince at typos and clumsy writing. But I have finished more novels in a shorter time during the few weeks since I got my iPad than I read the whole previous year on paper. Turns out, the source of my impatience was eyestrain. The words on the printed page fade and blur when I try to read, with or without my glasses (which I usually can’t find, anyway). So I get tired of reading quickly. With the iPad, I can adjust font size and brightness to read comfortably for hours.

This post is not meant to be an ad for iPads. You could easily replace “iPad” with “color Nook,” or maybe “Kindle.” The point is, my e-reader has made my reading life easier and better.

So, sometime soon, I’ll be going through all of my books, getting rid of the ones I’ve always secretly known I’ll never read again (or, in some cases, never read for the first time). If I change my mind later, I can always download an e-book version that will last forever and never get dusty. Same with books I refer to often—why not have them all in one handy place?

I’ll still keep some physical books—the ones with sentimental value, that I’ve carried with me since childhood, full of my chocolate stains and dead ants from when I used to read in the fort I built under the sumac bushes. And I’ll keep any books signed by the author, if only because I never want that author to find his/her signed book in a used bookstore, like he/she no longer matters.

The transition has already begun. Already, I feel guilty if I buy a physical book, like I’m some kind of dust-collecting, resource-sucking tree murderer. The only thing stopping me from complete and immediate conversion is that sometimes the e-book costs more than the paper book.

But I predict that soon 100% of the books I buy for myself will be digital. Well, maybe 97%. Old habits . . .

About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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12 Responses to I wanna be digital

  1. Patrick has been doing this. He is a believer in the Holy Ipad & other such devices. I’m about 3rd on the waiting list of people in this house who will be getting an Ipad in the next year or so (their learning software is SO impressive). No fair! No fair! I want a new toy, too!

  2. I have a Kindle. It’s fantastic for trips. I no longer have to pack a separate suitcase filled with books. When I check into the airlines, I’m no longer overweight – well, the bags aren’t anyway. I love how I can make a new novel appear at any time of the day or night simply by hitting the Buy button. Not real fond of the size of the credit card bill that results from this insidious convenience, but this is a problem of self-discipline, not technology.

    Yeah, I love this digital age.

    But deep in my heart of hearts, I know these squiggles I grab from the air are not BOOKS.

    BOOKS have a different place in my life. They fill my bookcases to overflowing and make untidy stacks on the floor, and every time I walk by them, they wink and wave and I know I’m in the presence of friends. The oldest and best loved of these friends are faded and tattered and wrinkled, but then, so am I, so we enjoy our continued conversations.

    If there’s a BOOK I’d like to share, I simply press it into someone’s hand and say, “Here. Read this. You’ll like it.” I’m glad to know there is a way to share stories from my Kindle. I’m sure I could figure out how to do this in a day or three of study and trial and error. But do I need another electronic device to curse? No. I need to reserve my extensive vocabulary of naughty words to use on my computer.

    BOOKS can sprout forests of little pieces of paper jutting from the pages that mark great ideas or unique phrasing or interesting tidbits of information. My Kindle doesn’t even have page numbers and going back to find anything is a pain. Yes, I know someone is going to tell me there is a way to put in digital pieces of paper in between these non-existent pages, and I’m sure I could learn to do it in a day or three. But it takes two seconds to rip and stuff.

    I can build a fort out of BOOKS when I’m researching a story. They circle my work chair, all within easy reach, their little paper markers bristling. I love my little fort of BOOKS. It delineates the boundary between my imagined world and the world of dishes and meetings and all matter of things-that-need-to-be-done.

    And I think this is the problem with my Kindle. It belongs to that outer world. I love its convenience. I’m thrilled I can find some old and obscure piece and download it when I could never afford its paper cousin. Yeah, I’m not going to give back my Kindle.

    But in the end – it just isn’t a BOOK.

  3. Tammy says:

    EEEK no paper! I must be old fashioned – the picture of sitting under a tree with a paperback… Ok so I never do that. It sounds good and still… Of course we do not have an Ipad in our house so who knows?

  4. Char says:

    After years of moving boxes of books from one home to another, I finally pared down my collection to 3 (now dusty) bookcases. There are small stacks of books scattered elsewhere in the house – on my desk, the kitchen table, coffee table and the piano. There’s no more room.

    I was very hesitant to buy an e-reader. I have enough ‘devices’. I did not want another one to pack along with my laptop or stuff into a handbag. I did not want to carry one more battery charger on trips. I also have a beef with publishers. The librarian in me cringes at the proprietary technology. A user should be able to read an e-book on ANY device, and at least there is some evidence that is happening.

    So there was no Kindle or Nook in my future. BUT… then my co-worker told me that Kindle had an iPhone app. I couldn’t quite picture myself reading a book on that small screen, but the app was free so I downloaded it. I downloaded some sample chapters, discovered I could set the font size, search & bookmark pages. I love it!

    I do believe that most of my book purchases will be e- in the future, however, I couldn’t resist the print version of the 20th anniversary edition of Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. 🙂

    • I agree about the proprietary formats. Very irritating. That was a big motivator in my purchase of the iPad instead of the Kindle. (Well, that and the idea of Angry Birds on a bigger screen.)

  5. Pingback: Digitization of Us All (or “The End of Civilization”) | I WANNA BE . . .

  6. Silvernfire says:

    Now in possession of both a Kindle and an iPad, I find that my book buying has slowed noticeably. Even in used book stores, I look at a possible purchase and wonder if I could get it as an e-book instead. But I’m not freeing up that much space at home because, as it turns out, I’m duplicating my paper library in e-format and keeping the paper version anyway. I prefer e-books for reading something cover to cover. I, too, am having trouble bringing print into focus even with reading glasses, and heavy books are becoming a problem for me to carry around. But for quickly looking something up, for anything that requires flipping through the book, I turn to the paper copy.

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