‘Revolution’ is probably the best word for it; it’s a real change of scene, a shake up and one that may only be welcomed with a rallying cry by a certain demographic, a particular group or even a minority. Revolution is not a wind of change, a tide change in the sea of mankind, something that comes slowly and peacefully, something that although not necessarily welcomed is inevitable. Revolution comes with a battle cry, it is enforced and championed. Revolution is divisive and threatening, the world turned upside down, for better or for worse.
People take sides when there is a revolution. When the wind of time blows change, it is easier to remain passive, to remain unaffected even. The change creeps in like a sea fog, slow and insidious. Revolution is the tornado, swirling and destroying everything in its path.
You’ve possibly taken sides already in this revolution. Being a slightly backward, head in the clouds type, it’s taken longer for the revolution to catch up with me. I was first aware of it all through the reactions of other people, mainly those who feel that this particular revolution is the end of the world and of all that is good and proper. I read this kind of reaction across the internet and on blogs and wondered. I wondered where I stood and whether there was a truth in their arguments.
I’m an old-fashioned type; I don’t join bandwagons, especially not technological bandwagons. If I need to use something, then I will slowly come round to using it. Usually a few years after everyone else. It works for me.
But I found myself in the revolution’s path and then I had decisions to make. I had to make them quickly, quicker than I would usually anyway, and I did feel a little pressured to go a certain route. I wanted to read a work that a fellow blogger had had published, through solidarity at the very least. But yes, it was in that revolutionary, new, world-changing, life-changing format. The e-book. Or electric book as I call them.
Well it was free to download the software, not too much for the book and there was no commitment. Maybe it was time to plunge into the storm waters. I’m not one to condemn a new-fangled thing without actually trying it myself. So I tried and I tested.
Personally I don’t understand the arguments that some are using that suggest that authors will never be able to make their way in the cut price electric book market. I wouldn’t have said the chances of authorship generating a reliable income have ever been particularly high or likely. There are other shades of the argument that I understand even less, authors being forced out of the market, authors not receiving enough for their work so I can’t really comment on that.
There does seem to be a degree of snobbery involved, isn’t there always? As if there is now some difference in quality and stature between a published author in print and a published author in electric. It reminds me of the days when professional photographers tenaciously clung on to their old film cameras, a last bastion of quality and skill before the digital tide swept them all away. But is being published in any format a mark, a guarantee of quality? Not really. I’m sure you’ve tossed books aside in disbelief and despair.
It’s an idea that has quietened down lately but you do sometimes hear fanciful worries that tomorrow’s generation won’t be able to read at all, tales of how email, text and social media are destroying the written word, evidence that today’s generation are already video and image dependent. I think that’s what I like most about this electric book concept. For those whom everything must now appear on-screen, the electric book brings them the classics and literature that they would otherwise neglect on a dusty library shelf. It is in a format that they understand and appreciate.
I take comfort that the written word isn’t dead, it may have changed somewhat in the form that it has taken but literature hasn’t died. I don’t think it will. I remind myself that the written word has been presented in many formats throughout the last few millennia. Do you still mourn the loss of the scroll or the codex? Are you bitter that these forms were superseded by newer technologies that eventually were proved to be better, easier or more up to date? I remind myself that the writing process has changed too. Were you allowed to write in biro in your school? Did the gel pen come into being in your lifetime? Do you really want to go back to hand composing thousand page documents with a quill or are you grateful that the typewriter and then the computer appeared on the scene?
Yes, we rankle at change. It is part of our human nature. We may have preferences; if you wish to write with a quill in homemade ink on a scroll in the language of Chaucer then I have no problem with that or you. It is your choice. But published writing is not just about the author, it has to be marketed. The market, perhaps to a certain extent dictated by the publishing houses, decides what is written about, by whom and for how much. That market changes. And authors change too. Writers no longer serialise mega novels in newspapers. There is limited magazine work too now. Do you change or do you cling to the past? It’s a difficult question, one that each writer must address personally.
I don’t see the electric book as dumbing down either. There’s plenty of frothy, soapy fiction out there in print. I’ve used my software to acquire copies of classics, some of which have long been unavailable in print. It has been educational. I’ve read a guide on camping published in the 1870s which advises on how to make the ancestor of our modern sleeping bags and to always take a Bible with you. I’ve read a manual on healthy living which amongst plenty of sound ideas also advocates that fruit has no nutritional value. I can read in several languages with a dictionary built-in to enlighten my reading. (I’ve been meaning to plough through Les Misérables for the last five years but fifteen chapters or so of historic furniture descriptions made it such heavy weather that the project has been repeatedly shelved, there’s only so many times I can look up words in the oversized dictionary). Electric books have introduced me to new writers and new ideas, mainly historic because I’m working my way through the ‘free’ section with the appetite of a bookworm glutton. This surely can’t be a bad thing that all these works have now become accessible again? In fact, in my experience, the electric book improves literacy because you can just look things up at a click of a button, you don’t just lazily gloss over the words you don’t understand.
The other thing that I really appreciate with this electric book technology is the access. I’m currently using software on my computer but there are specialist readers available. Small, discreet, portable. Even if you’re the biggest fan of paper, surely that has some advantage over lugging both volumes of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece with you? Plus the dictionary, remember? In terms of disability, this is huge. You don’t have to struggle with the weight of book(s); you don’t have to turn pages as soon as you get both the book and yourself comfortable; you can adjust the brightness of the screen and whether or not it’s the classic black and white. Now, let’s go travelling. For today’s generation, never mind tomorrow’s, then I think this technology is going to entertain those frisky young aeroplane passengers for hours. You can have videos, magazines and books at a touch of a button and without an entire backpack stuffed full. Never mind the little ones; it’s going to keep attention span limited folks like me quiet on plane journeys too. I can end up carrying about five different books on a flight, I read fast. That’s without counting the dictionary. Plus if they can get all the magazine subscriptions available, imagine what that would do to reduce paper waste. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who read and chuck their dailies, weeklies and monthlies. I hoard. Electric versions would save space. I can imagine having a library of knitting patterns on it, being able to zoom in for detail and not having to retrieve a very crushed piece of dog-eared paper from the bottom of my bag annotated with cryptic references.
Yes, I have decided to be open and try this new technology. And I am genuinely impressed. I don’t know if I welcome the revolution entirely wide armed but I’m not going to clamour against it. There are disadvantages. The costs of investing in the new technology, especially for the readers, I think that’s definitely what is going to make sure that paper books are around for a good long time yet, because you also need a power source to charge them up at. The so-called Third World (does anyone know where the second went?) will be very unfairly disadvantaged in this revolution, as sadly is so often the case. Although bringing the revolution to classrooms has decided benefits, I worry about the other ‘class’ divisions. If you’re carrying an electric book reader as a student or as a tourist (up to date guides would definitely be an advantage in my case, especially without having an entire suitcase of them either), doesn’t that make you vulnerable to theft? Personally I can’t see authors being harmed in this revolution, they’re adaptable folk and anything that brings their work to a wider audience has got to be a good thing.
I know that, personally, I will continue to value the smell and feel of paper, the books in the colourful jackets or the ones in historic bindings. They will always have a place on my shelves and in my heart. No revolution can change that for me.
Yes, the world is changing but whether you change with it, is up to you. How you see that change is also up to you. But if you’re blogging about how bad this new technology is then I do perceive a certain hypocrisy or inconsistency in your stance. Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, whoever else you list as a literary great, did not have a blog. Blogs are new. A new way of writing in a changing world. Just like that gel pen and the sticky notes you have on your old fashioned desk * next to your new technology computer.
* Although any of those literary greats of old may quite likely struggle to identify said desk as such as it’s now made in pretend wood, shiny in some garish colour or over pronounced fake ‘grain’ and was probably fixed together by yourself from a flatpack with limited instructions and has a distinct wobble every time you use the printer, very different to a properly old-fashioned desk.