fantasy ebook 01.25.2005, 10:51 AM
posted by kim white
I'm still thinking about Steven Pemberton's estimation of when and why the shift from paper book to ebook will occur. Perhaps we, the book loving public, are waiting for something more than just a perfect screen. The question is, what, exactly, are we waiting for? What would it take to make the ebook absolutely irresistible? To follow is my attempt to imagine the perfect ebook.
First, I want to read ebooks on a beautiful portable device. Smaller than my laptop, larger than my palm pilot (about the size and weight of an actual book). The cover should be soft leather that, when folded back, reveals a flawless screen with jewel-like resolution. I want to be able to store all the books I own in this "book" so that when I go on vacation, or when I go to work, or when I go to an artist colony, I can read whatever I'm in the mood for. If I happen to be driving my car, or cooking, or gardening, or if I happen to be blind, I want to be able to tell my book to read to me.
If I am taking a class on a particular book, or teaching a class on a particular book, I want to be able to access all the scholarly work that applies to that book. Furthermore, I want to be able to search all notations made on the passages I am interested in. And I want to be able to search the book itself: to copy and paste quotations into my paper (instead of having to retype them). I also want to be able to add my scholarly work to the corpus that is building around the book I am studying.
If I am looking for a new book to read, I want to be able to look at reviews and excerpts. I want to be able to access recommended reading lists that have been posted online by people whose taste I respect.
If I suddenly decide I want to read a book that is not part of my collection, I want to be able to download it from the internet through this device any time of day or night because I don't feel like going to the bookstore.
Also, I need this device because I want to read all the newfangled multimedia ebooks that are coming out which combine text, image, video, and sound. I want to be able to "read" books that were written by visual artists in collaboration with writers and musicians. I want to be able to watch music videos that are starting to look like movies, movies that are beginning to read like books, and books that are morphing into songs.
If I really love a certain book, I want to be able to go to a blog where other people who love this book are talking about it. If there is a movie based on the book, I want to be able to download the movie and watch it on my leather bound electronic "book." Also, my book should have a keyboard that slides out on the side, or it should have a touchscreen that I can write on, because I might want to make notes in the margins.
And I guess my book should have addresses, phone numbers, a calendar, and pictures of my son. It should allow me to surf the internet, send emails, listen to music, and type papers, because I don't feel like carrying a bunch of other devices around.
Posted by kim white on January 25, 2005 10:51 AM
tags: The Ideal Device?
Gary Frost on January 25, 2005 9:06 PM:
Kim, your prospectus is alluring.
I have a few questions; (1) is there anyone else like you who will also buy one? (2) will you get tired of this device in a year or two? (3) will you be disturbed if the device is not longer supported in a year or two?
kim white on January 25, 2005 11:36 PM:
Good questions. (1) I can't answer this first one...anyone else out there like me? (2) I'm very attached to my laptop and can't imagine my worklife without it. I've had a laptop (and before that a desktop computer) for eight or nine years, haven't gotten tired of it yet and always look forward to owning a new, improved version. I imagine these loyalties would transfer to the ebook. (3) This is a most interesting question. If I get your meaning, you are suggesting that the ebook could put books on the kind of consumer treadmill we see in the music industry, which has taken us through records/8tracks/cassette tapes/CD Roms/DVDs/etc... It would be very disturbing to have to re-purchase my entire library every year when the new version of the software (or the hardware) is issued. I hope that Sophie (the ebook software that will be released next year by the institute) will catch on as THE ebook software, because Sophie will be free and open source. And I hope each new iteration of this software remains open source. Since, I'm making a wishlist, I guess I can add that to it. I want ebooks that are made with software that is free and open source, so that I don't have to purchase updated versions of my library every year.
dave munger on January 26, 2005 3:27 PM:
I don't think there's going to be just one e-book reader. There will be several types, just like now people prefer to take different types of electronic devices with them.
Some people are cell phone people: their cell never leaves their side. Others can't live without their filofaxes. Still others won't leave home without a laptop.
Display technology is currently the weak link: none of these things are as good as a paper book for reading extended texts. When we get to the point where an electronic display has the same contrast and resolution as paper, we will see an explosion of devices; many more than we even have now. Some might be desktop size (where literally the entire desktop is your display), some will be wristwatch size, and every size inbetween.
Perhaps the more difficult problem will be how to make e-books that work on all these different devices!
Gary Frost on January 26, 2005 8:37 PM:
Dave, I don't think there is an explosion or an adoption trend on the other side of some display resolution. Much of the easily read print is worse than current displays.
Anyway, the best resolution for an ebook would be an audio book with visual navigation. The screen size could be that of a cellphone for display of paratext aids and tracking...much like a CD displays. The voice could be synthesized to your own personal vocality. No better resolution than clarity. No better portability than an ear plug and amulet cpu.
kim white on January 26, 2005 10:10 PM:
I like Dave's idea of different sized screens (the size of your entire desktop or as small as a wristwatch). My sister wants a waterproof screen about the size and thickness of a vinyl placemat so she can float it in the tub (or the pool) and read while bathing.
dave munger on January 27, 2005 8:07 AM:
"Much of the easily read print is worse than current displays."
I have to disagree with you there, Gary. I'm holding a crummy xerox of a church retreat flyer in my hand right now (or I was, until I started typing), and it's much better than my brand new laptop screen. Higher resolution, substantially better contrast. In my other hand is (was) my handspring Treo, whose display offers even poorer resolution and truly lousy contrast.
Yet still I do most of my reading online. It's only editing or reading extended texts (books) that I continue use paper for.
Also, by "explosion" I didn't mean that when the magical moment of superior display contrast and resolution arrives, that suddenly all books will end up in the wastebin. I meant that at that time we'll start to see an even wider variety of different devices than we currently have. I think paper books will be largely replaced by e-books and other electronic media, but that replacement will be very gradual.
kim white on January 27, 2005 12:21 PM:
To your comment, Gary: just heard a report on NPR about audio books and their growing market share. Sales of audio books have more than doubled in the last three years. Surprisingly, the consumers of audio books are also avid readers. These multi-taskers want to be able to "read" a book while swimming laps. It's not that they would rather listen to the book than read it, it's that they want to be able to consume books all the time. They want expanded books, full service books, mega-books. Imagine how popular audio books will be when they are included with the text-based ebook version.
Gary Frost on January 27, 2005 6:37 PM:
"Much of the easily read print is worse than current displays."
Dave, this is an excellent example of my upside-down prose! I am trying to say that print is easier to read even though it is delivered at a terrible resolution which is much worse than current screen displays. So we certainly agree!
I also add meaning to the equation. It is much easier to understand print than the same copy presented on the screen.
red@ctor on February 3, 2005 4:21 AM:
I am particularly taken by the form that your ideal ebook would take: it must be 'beautiful' (an interesting word!) and the same size and format as a regular book, with a soft leather cover. In other words - I think - you want it to look from the outside like an attractive leather bound printed book or notebook. Fans of the codex often argue that they wouldn't take a laptop to bed or into the bath, so it's interesting that you suggest (I think rightly) that an ebook must feel - at least on the outside - just like the kind of book you would take to bed. (Water, on the other hand, plays havoc with leather!) The flip side of this, I suppose, is the more beautiful the object, the more emotion gets vested in it, and the more upset you get if you lose it!
One issue that never seems to be mentioned in the ebook vs book debate (so maybe it's just me) is that the difference isn't just one of form but also of number. I'm typing this in an office where I have one desktop, one laptop, one printer, one palm, one radio - and dozens of books. Of course, this is the one great advantage of an ebook - it puts those dozens of books into a single object just like the iPod does with music - but I do wonder about the cultural and psychological implications of that move from 'the many to the one'.
kim white on February 3, 2005 10:04 PM:
It's not just you. I also have a peculiar affection for my stockpile of paper books. I anthropomorphize each volume. They are like individuals which I spent many hours getting to know, and I feel comforted in their presence. I wonder...without those autonomous physical "bodies" will books seem less real to us? How will we conceptualize individual books once they become invisible electronic volumes residing in iPod-like devices? We will still have the many, but it won't seem like it. I imagine there will be a good deal of anxiety accompanying this shift.
The most difficult thing, for me, will be the redefining of my relationship to the physical book object. But maybe I am underestimating the fantasy ebook. Perhaps it will be even more of a companion than its paper ancestors. Why not? I already ascribe human characteristics to my laptop. I say things like; "it doesn't like that file," or, "it won't let me open Photoshop."
Maybe someone can speak more about the cultural implications of moving from the many to the one. It seems we have done that with paper filing systems (which have become electronic databases). Nobody was sad to see that go, but books are a different story...
Gary Frost on February 4, 2005 10:45 PM:
It seems that we continually lapse into an assumption that the "shift" will involve an exchange of the paper book for a screen book.
More likely, we will adapt to a dependence on both. This is an especially realistic projection if the two augment each other. It is an inescapable assumption if the two provide distinctly different modes of reading that, together, compound the meaning of conceptual works while they increase the efficiency of research methods.
marc on February 10, 2005 3:44 PM:
Conventional screens are a bit hard for a book.
Holographic (-style) fields would be more pleasant.
I think paper will disappear quite quickly when those sorts of fields are generally available.
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