Evil e-readers

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By Gabriella Levine

I hate e-readers.

As I typed out the previous sentence, I found myself breathing a liberating sigh of relief with each tap on my keyboard. After a long struggle, instead of succumbing to the overwhelming efficiency, hi-tech sleekness, popularity and resourcefulness of the all-powerful e-reader, I have uttered the words that will liberate me from any future e-reading temptation.

While there is no way to replace the musty, worn smell of a used library book, the Apple iPad tries to replicate the reading experience by letting readers “turn” pages and place bookmarks.

Kindles, Nooks, iPads, e-readers— call them what you will, but you will often hear me affectionately refer to them as: ‘The Largest Threat to our Intellectual Culture.’

When I give my imagination free reign, I can envision that, if we continue to download rather than physically purchase or borrow our books, we will one day be thrown into the unpleasant world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. For those who have not read this book, Bradbury wrote about a world in which print books, along with the better parts of our cultural values, were obsolete.

Granted, our future may not be as grim as the one that Bradbury described. Books were outlawed in Fahrenheit 451, but fear not, in the looming future of our literary world, we will still be able to access books on our handy-dandy tablets and e-readers. However, the feel and physical presence of the books themselves will be gone.

In essence, we will be living without the concrete symbol of our country’s long history of knowledge and intellectualism—the printed word, which can trace its iconic history back to the days of the Gutenberg Revolution in 1455, when the first book in the world, the Guttenberg Bible, was ever printed on a printing press. This marked the beginning of the mass production and distribution of books, and the start of a cultural revolution in the West.

Bradbury created a fictional account in order to forewarn society of the threats of mass media upon the literary world. His prediction can also be used to foreshadow the threat of the mounting popularity of e-readers. This form of mass technology has the capacity to turn Bradbury’s fiction into a version of our own dark and dismal reality.

This is a daunting prospect for several reasons. Though literature will never disappear, the many features that create an inimitable reading experience will surely cease to exist should we continue to digitalize the works of literary art that have been printed for centuries. Gone will be the coffee tables scattered with books, libraries stocked from floor to ceiling with the greatest classics of all time, and the bookstores that offer some of the most enriching shopping experiences.

Today, we favor the efficiency of an e-reader to download books instantaneously, create virtual libraries and enable us with web surfing capabilities. Don’t get me wrong, I am just as tempted as the next reader to ditch my traditional books for a smaller portable device that has massive storage capabilities and can be used to read and browse the web simultaneously. But the intricacies and virtual capabilities of these e-readers rob a book of some of its most alluring aspects—the simplicity of quiet contemplation while turning one page to the next, isolated and tuned out from the technology that now inhibits nearly every facet of our lives.

I write this article fully aware of my own hypocrisy. I must confess, I own an iPad 2, and I use it for several daily tasks—reading emails, checking the news, browsing Twitter, Facebook, etc. But the one thing I won’t do—the one thing I refuse to ever do—is download a book via Amazon’s Kindle app or Apple’s iBooks.

The eBook sales of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple and every other e-commerce superstore are well on their way to sending several independent bookstores and even some larger booksellers, such as Borders, down the path of no return.

Most eBooks sell for cheaper rates than print books that are offered at independent and larger bookstore chains. However, one must understand that, though it may be cheaper and easier to click a button and download a book, the engagement with other customers and booksellers in an intellectual environment is irreplaceable and well worth the additional price.

Even more threatened than bookstores are the many libraries which have already been rejected in favor of home-owned books. Libraries are some of our greatest literary and educational resources, but their popularity amongst readers will experience a more significant decline should e-readers continue to be preferred.

We text and post on Facebook instead of physically speaking to one another in order to communicate, we tweet to express our opinions instead of actually vocalizing them, we rely upon updates on social media to receive our news instead of browsing a newspaper or watching a newscast, and now we buy our books via a button on the Internet instead of making a trip to a bookstore or library.

With every decision to buy an eBook, a reader chooses to avoid the personal encounters that they may undergo at a bookstore or even at local libraries. Libraries and bookstores enrich the reading experience in many ways. Shunning them in favor of an impersonal interaction via the Internet further demonstrates our failure to embrace personal communication or interaction. This is just another detached measure that is transforming our society into an increasingly isolated technological world.

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