Not that I would stake my life on this being a fact, but I'm pretty sure that the definition of History is something like "stuff that's happened since it could be written down and recorded". So before writing, stuff gets labelled, Prehistoric. The written word then, is such a significant part of our concept of civilisation that it's understandable that events that effect the written word seem to matter so much to us; the invention of the printing press is universally considered a pivotal turning point in history, the wholesale burning of books by a variety of regimes in the world having almost as much impact on our psyche as the blood those same regimes had spilt.
Books have become such an integral part of our lives - whereas other stuff we possess ends up on a generic regular shelf, books even have their own specially named "bookshelf" - and be they paperback, hardback, cheap or expensive, old or new, there are few people in our relatively affluent (in worldly terms) society that don't have a book collection of some sort, even if we never get around to reading any of them.
And I guess this all may be a subconscious part of my unusual hesitation to purchase the next must have gadget - the Amazon Kindle bookreader! In case you didn't know, the Kindle is a small tablet style device about the size of a regular paperback book, that is a dedicated (well almost) machine for reading eBooks, or digital books stored in it's internal memory. The new version of this device, the Kindle 3, has already overcome a lot of the obvious downsides reading books on electronic devices used to have:
- The screen is now good enough to read in direct sunlight
- The memory is enough to hold about 3500 books (a lifetime's reading)
- The price has come down to a (fairly) affordable £111
- The battery life is quoted as up to a month
- The books are now a little cheaper (only by pence mind) than the hardcopy
- The device itself is lighter than a paperback book
So why am I hesitating? I leapt merrily into the age of digital music and love the idea of my little ipod having my entire music collection plus audiobooks and a few videos in a device smaller that a packet of cigs. OK there one big downside to digital books that moving to digital music didn't suffer from and that' convertibility. Without a vast amount of effort I could convert my music back catalogue to mp3. I won't be able to do this with Kindle unless I want to re-type entire books. Hence I'm in a position of multiple formats. Some stuff I'd have to read as a real book, other stuff on digital which given one of the advantages of this sort of device is the capacity, is kind of defeats the object if I end up having to carry both the Kindle and a load of old books about because I haven't decided what I'll be reading. So for instance when I'm away from home, remember my ipod have every single piece of music I possess ready and waiting for me to listen to, unless I want to buy a Ford Transit to have my bookshelf come with me, the Kindle won't achieve this for reading.To highlight this effect, the initial outlay, although now much cheaper than it was, still amounts to a sizeable number of actual books, and until I know I'm going to be happy using a Kindle for the long term, I'm unlikely to purchase many books in that format, so whatever the capacity of the device, for a while it will still contain only a couple of titles.
Then there is the nickability of it to consider. It's unlikely that anyone is going to bother stealing the latest Dan Brown best smeller from the beach bed as you snooze in the sun, but a Kindle will be gone faster than you can say "DaVinci" no matter what crappy books are loaded onto it.
However, when alls said and done, I think the real reason I don't already possess this wonderful new gadget, is probably that it just isn't really a book! There's an indefinable quality to holding and reading a real book, there's a smell to the paper, there's a tangibility of experience that I just can't foresee being there with any electronic device. Will Kindle be the beginning of the end for real books? Well, from my perspective don't go kindling those book burning fires just yet...let me agonise over it for a little longer before I inevitably justify buying it with the "I wants it!" argument.