A techno-wish

The thing that keeps me away from the current crop of eBook readers is not that I think they are inherently bad, but I just don’t think they are ready yet. It’s not that I’m in love with paper per se, it’s that I’m in love with the fact that a book is such a transparent vehicle for connecting author and reader. There are no switches to fiddle with or keys to clutter your visual field – just those lovely words and thoughts, thoughts to soak up and enjoy whether you are on the subway, at the beach, or curled up in bed.

I find the little keyboard along the bottom of the Kindle II to be visually jarring. I want my eBook to be like a paperback – small enough to slip in my pocket, unobtrusive, portable as hell. I’m put off by the idea that I’m supposed to carry around this unnecessarily large brick, to make room for all those weird little buttons and switches and a built-in keyboard at the bottom that isn’t even pleasant or comfortable to use.

Of course that keyboard is temporary – in the next few years eBook readers will go over entirely to using multitouch screens (and then, somewhat later, a complete wrap-around multitouch skin), and then questions of the proper interface for page-flipping and other navigation, typing in titles, author searches, etc., will all move entirely into software, where they belong. If you prefer a particular gesture or method to turn the page, thumb through the index, or find a particular article in last week’s Times, sooner or later somebody will implement just what you want.

Rather than think about how to fix the current crop of eBook readers, I prefer to ignore them, and focus on what I really want – the paperback book I want to take with me everywhere. Here is one of my all-time favorite paperbacks:

My techno-wish is that my eBook reader will be the exact size and shape as a paperback, with no buttons or knobs whatsoever, since all controls will be via intuitive multitouch gestures and soft keys on the front, sides or back of the book:

And when I finally get one of these, I’m going to back and reread Salinger.

4 thoughts on “A techno-wish”

  1. I will still miss the traces of use and the smell and touch of the paper.

    Even your version seems like I would need to make friends with the book again from the start. Until now I prefer my old friends. They have been touched, they joined me on trips, some of them are waiting to be finished for years, they helped me at work.

    Short my books have a life and it is somewhat related to me personally and for now I can’t see an electronic version taking their place.

    So I see myself at some time in future standing in a bookshop asking if I can get the “book” – however it will be called then – as an old fashioned paper copy, making the shop-man, if there is still one, wonder about this bizarre old woman. 🙂

  2. It’s not necessarily one or the other. New technologies don’t necessarily wipe out old ones, if the old ones are good. Many people are going back to LPs now, even in this age of downloads. And cinema has certainly not wiped out live theatre.

    There will be times when you want to read a particular book, and it’s not practical to get your hands on a paper copy. And then there will be times when nothing will suffice but that favourite dog-eared old paperback.

    I vote for peaceful co-existence.

  3. Ken you are right and I didn’t intend to write against the technology. 🙂
    Not at all.
    I only realised for myself, that whenever I read something on paper, I am able to scan the page and a picture is stored in my brain, so it can happen that I just while discussing a topic I take out a book, or just a ring binder and find the interesting quote, because I remember the location and the look of the binder outside, the part of the where I saw the quote first and the look of page, it just takes a few seconds.
    That never happened to me with stuff I read on an e-xyz-monitor so far. It seems that at least to me some kind of location information is missing that helps me to find the information I need a bit faster, especially in situations when the right keyword doesn’t come up in my mind and an electronic search becomes very difficult.
    But in the end I assume it is just my funny brain and that loves 3D. 🙂

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