Why Online versus Printed Books

Amazon Kindle (2008)

I don’t know how many printed books I’ve read so far (22 years) this century, but I do recollect that I have read only one printed book during the past five years. That is because there was no online version of that obscure book about specific episode in the colonial history of eastern Connecticut. It was a book published during the early 1970s and which I inherited. I remember thinking how inconvenient reading a printed is: I could read it only during the daytime or where after the sunset I had sufficient electric lighting (certainly not in bed lest I wake my wife).

Meanwhile, I read 552 books online since 2008. Although I’ve owned a RCA eBook reader since 2001 (when I was invited to RCA’s research laboratory to consult briefly about the devices applicability for reading periodicals), 2008 was when I purchase my first Amazon Kindle eBook reader. It was the first generation of that device, which used electronic ink, rather than a LED screen, to display type (no photos, no graphics, no color, only black & white), and, like a printed book it could be read only where there was daylight or electric lighting; but its direct free wireless (via mobile telephone circuits) connection to Amazon’s book store, as well as its ability to run for weeks on a charge, forever changed my reading habits. About ten years ago, I stopped using electric book reading devices and switched to using the Amazon Kindle app on my desktops, laptops, and smartphones.

On those devices, particularly the smartphones, I don’t have to worry about daytime or electric lighting when reading (indeed, I can easily adjust my smartphone’s Kindle app to display white type on a black background, just bright enough to read in the dark of a bedroom so not to wake my wife). Moreover, all my devices that have the Kindle app synchronize with each other so that, for example, this morning my desktop computer goes automatically to where I left off in a book last night. An each of the 552 books I’ve read online since 2008 are not only instantly accessible wherever I am with my smartphone or the other devices, but I can electronically search through any one or all of them. Which book noted that “conservativism really does speak to and for people who have lost something.” Oh, yeah, that was on page 58 of Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Or it might show such reference across multiple online books I have purchased (such if I ask it to find me a specific topic in books about software or camera manuals. I can do none of these things with physical bookcases or bookshelves. I can’t imagine living without such convenience!

My such heavy use of ebooks alarms some of my older friends. “But what about the physical sensation of holding a printed book, of feeling its pages, even the scent of printed pages?” Well, yes, I do like the feel or leather jackets, too, but such clothing isn’t convenient in in all conditions (nor have I had a paper cut in ten years). I believe the future of printed books is like the future of compact discs (CDs) and digital versatile discs (DVDs): perhaps you will own in those physical formats a copy of your favorite book, musical album, or movie, but you will likely use only streaming or downloadable versions of most books, music, and movies. Indeed, this conversion is already happening worldwide. By the way, although I’ve digitized all my music, I still own a music record player and a few vinyl long-playing (LP) music discs. But as a character played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Men in Black remarked about extraterrestrial technology, “Just another new for a copy of the Beatles’ White Album“)

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