I grew up in a family of readers. From an early age I always had my nose buried in a book. As a kid I read fiction, but as a teenager and young adult I discovered non-fiction.
In my 20s and 30s I taught English and German to teenagers. I continued to read a lot of books. One summer holiday I read my way through the school’s senior bookroom at a rate of about 1 novel per day.
Then I discovered computers, and I changed how I used my time. On-screen reading increased, first as I learned how to work the computers and even write some programs for them.
I read computer magazines and typed in programs — in the days before floppy discs and hard drives. I’d save the programs out to cassette tape.
I left teaching. Then the Internet came along, bringing even more on-screen reading, with email, Usenet newsgroups and the web.
My rate of reading words printed on paper went into steep decline. I gradually stopped buying printed magazines. Half-read books started to accumulate on my shelves.
I found books I could transfer to my handheld devices. I don’t recall if I ever read books on my Newton, but I certainly read a bunch of things on my Handspring Visor around the turn of the millennium. And from that moment I no longer wanted to read books printed on paper.
Now here we are in 2009 and the Amazon Kindle offers all kinds of wonderful possibilities for reading on a handheld device — if you’re in the USA, that is. Unfortunately it’s just not available here in New Zealand.
Virginia DeBolt asks Does the Kindle Make Sense?:
We all seem to grasp the idea that traditional publishing on paper has reached a crisis point. What we resist is concluding that devices like the Kindle may [be] the solution.
Books are big and bulky. They take up shelf space. After a while they smell a bit. Many trees are cut down to make the paper, and all kinds of fuels are used and pollution created in their manufacture and shipping.
Virginia pointed to an interesting article that makes some assumptions and comes up with an assessment of what the Kindle could save — Fat Knowledge: E-Books Vs. Newspapers:
As a proud Kindle owner I wondered if e-books were better for the environment than their paper brethren. …
Reading the physical version of the NY Times for a year uses 7,300 MJ of energy and emits 700 kg of co2. Reading it on a Kindle uses 100 MJ of energy and emits 10 kg of co2.
The Kindle therefore saves 6,500 MJ and 690 kg of co2 a year.
That’s an enormous saving, with huge implications for the environment.
Our abilities to assess these kinds of environmental costs are still in their infancy. A lot of assumptions went into Fat Knowledge’s calculations. [The author of Fat Knowledge doesn’t reveal their name, that I could find, anyway.]
Maybe the calculations are way off. But they’d have to be a long way off to make a Kindle as energy-inefficient as printed matter.
A lot of people say they like the tactile experience of reading on paper. I’m not surprised: it’s what they’re used to. There are probably a lot of emotional resonances to do with reading, and perhaps being read to. Giving up print and books probably touches deep childhood experiences.
But I bet there was a huge and similarly difficult transition when scrolls became books, when carefully handwritten ‘books’ were printed on a press, when the quill turned into the fountain pen, and the ballpoint pen, and the keyboard. *
The times are changing. How we package up information, data and storytelling are changing, and the delivery is most certainly changing.
I have friends whose houses are filled with books. I wonder what ‘booklovers’ shelves will be filled with in 100 years time?
* Here’s a really fun video that provides an interesting view: