Sunday 28 February 2010

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Appropriate size? Tick. Flat-panel display? Done. Variety of brands from where to choose? Mais, bien sûr! Colour images like those found in LCD technology? Hmm... let me get back to you on that one.

Who would have guessed it? That at the eleventh hour and after Steve Jobbs's hagiographic treatment on the cover of The Economist recently, e-readers devotees would be so glib so as to quibble over colour preferences. Or lack of them thereof.

As users of modern reading gadgets such as Kindle and Nook have discovered, their new toys are far from the Avatar-like sophistication which trumpeted their arrival. I guess someone forgot to update the bugle's App. And if you note a dollop of Schadenfreude in my post today it's because I am still sceptical of the e-book phenomenon.

With a self-assurance more commonly found in cocky roosters, new reading devices arrived en masse almost at once. And straight after, police were called to the scene of the crime (or 'launch', as many still prefer to call it) to declare the traditional book dead. No autopsy, no second opinion. Dead. Asphyxiated by paper surplus. However, little did the experts know that some of us, real literature lovers - as in palpable, touchable literature -, were just getting ready for the long battle ahead. Oh, boy, and what a battle! Tony Blair and George W Bush still wonder where Saddam Hussein's WMDs are. They're under my bed! And they are already aiming at a few targets: Kindle, Sony e-reader and STAReBOOK to name but some.

And would you believe it? Before we've even shot the first salvo of this literary epic war, the e-book camp has had its first casualty: colour.

Unlike mobile phones and laptops where the latest LCD technology makes it easy for the reader to view content, e-books are dependent on E Ink displays. The biggest downside is (rubs hands in glee) slow updates as you turn the pages and colours; they are hard on the reader's eye. Well, change to LCD, I hear your beautiful chorus sing. Not so quick, my chiquilines. LCD gadgets are battery-hungry monsters that could harm your eyesight if you expose yourself to them for a long period. Other technologies are simply beyond financial reach.

According to Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading division, 'the ideal e-reader display would combine excellent battery life, a paper-like reading experience, full colour and a response-time fast enough to suppport video - while also being affordable' (The Economist, 12th December 2009). Wise words, but my response to his comment is: Paper-like reading experience? Whatever happened to real paper?

Luddite I'm not, just in case the image of a caveman struggling to make fire with two sticks flashes suddenly in your mind. My approach is more from the variety angle. I'm all for the e-book if it means wider choice, not if it comes bearing a hood and leading the traditional book by the elbow to the guillotine. And yet it's the latter example the one that'll become the likelier scenario. On the one hand, the e-book is easier to carry around (I bet you'll miss dog-eared novels and pages yellowed by the passage of time) and more financially viable in the long term, especially for students (Really? One word, well, two compound ones, second-hand bookshops). It is also a quicker and more approachable format for scholars to access content since it accommodates more text (that'll put antique furniture stores out of business. Plus IKEA. No more bookshelves). On the other hand the history of display technologies is not awash with successess. Only a handful of them have satisfied the market.

However, it seems that there's been a breakthrough. Mirasol is a new electronic display developed by Qualcomm, one of the leading companies in the mobile phone industry. It is similar to E Ink in reflecting ambient light but it uses two layers of mirrors instead.

Fine, I see you gathering your troops, e-reading gadgets. I, in the meantime, will sharpen my lance and sword, saddle up my old Rocinante and call upon my loyal Sancho Panza. Windmills, here we come!

Copyright 2010

Next Post: 'Living in a Bilingual World', to be published on Tuesday 2nd March at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I'm not too worried Cuban. New fads come and go. If it works, namely if it offers something worthwhile in the long run, it'll stay around but the old stuff - the books - will no doubt stay too.

    Remember when video was going to kill the cinema? Both exist now side by side, though there will of course be casualties along the way.

  2. Not sure I agree with Elizabeth. Actually, video didn't kill the cinema but surely it made some damage. CD's killed the wonderful vynil records, and MP3s etc are killing the CD and music industry. And by the way, who goes to concerts these days, but a minority of music aficionados?

    Don't like the idea of E-books at all. I even find it hard to read the news on a computer screen. It is not the same experience and it gives me a splitting headache after a while. But hey, the people who LOVE reading I don't think they will give up paper for e-books, and the people who are gadget-obsessed, generally speaking, are they avid readers in the first place?

  3. Cuban, like you I love the idea of the e-book, but, like you, I'm waiting. You know, there are always many bugs with a new product when it first hits the market. Nevine remembers woes with iPhone # 1... boo hoo hoo. The iPhone is a treat, nowadays, but back a few years, when it first emerged, it was a pain in the behind. And, I think the reader is a wonderful gadget for the frequent traveler, because who wants to lug books when they have to lug luggage, right? But, I'm the traditionalist, too, when it comes to reading. And I'm not sure if the waiting excuse is just an excuse. Maybe I just love to grab the good old-fashioned bound book and curl up with it. Can I curl up with a reader? Well, I can try. But the cool ethers of technology will be blowing my way, Cuban! It's not quite the same thing as the communion I feel with the written word coming from a book. I don't know... we will have to wait and see, won't we? I suppose I'm willing to try out a reader, but not just yet... I'll give it a bit. Thank you for an awesome post, Cuban! And enjoy the remainder of your Sunday!!!


  4. Many thanks for your kind feedback. A couple of curious things have just happened.

    Number one I half-agree with Elisabeth. I don't think the e-book will kill the traditional book just yet. But the difference with cassettes vs vinyls and CDs vs mp3s is that there's a stronger ethical sense about green issues now worldwide and in making books, vast amounts of paper do get wasted. So, here're a few scenarios: publishers will only go for sure-sell pieces and risk-taking will be kept to a minimum. The most affected will be the public who won't be exposed to cutting-edge fiction very often. And more adventurous authors will decamp to the e-book side to have their groundbreaking work published quicker. I don't know, it's just an idea.

    Second curious thing. When Susana mentioned live ocncerts she, unwittingly, unveiled the reason for that Radiohead clip. The reason why I chose it was because I thought it would be a nice segue to the Quijote reference and also it would show the audience's response in a live concert. Amazing, if you ask me. And pretty much in the same way I think most book lovers respond to good books. With a sing-along chorus. :-)

    Have a brilliant Sunday and a great week.

    Greetings from London.

  5. I would like an e-reader - at the moment I do most of my reading on my laptop which is far from ideal! But I don't like the strange flashy thing they do when changing pages, so I will wait. But within my lifetime, I expect all my book purchases will be electronic.... I already stick to online journals.

  6. I am a book lover in the literal sense -- orgasmic at the smell and touch of the actual page, the binding, all that the physical contains. But I'm also the enthusiastic lover of my Kindle and look on it, more, as another way to read -- not better, not worse, just different. I wouldn't begin to argue about what is going to happen to books but do think that e-books are no fad. I think the revolution is and will be much like what happened when Gutenberg created his press. I don't think there's any going back, although just as oral traditions have continued to flourish in some way or another, so will print materials. Just this morning I read a wonderful article about publishing and this topic in The New York Review of Books by Jason Epstein. I'm sure it can be googled if anyone is interested...

  7. What a timely post as so many people are discussing whether to buy a kindle or not - I too am very happy to use a wide range of technological gadgets and am happy to browse on line - but please do not take away my greatest pleasure of browsing in real life bookshops - plus reading on screen?? very small doses only..Greetings from mexico

  8. I look forward, enormously, to the time when e-readers are as easy and comfortable to read as paperbacks. When I go away I can't physically carry more than 3 or 4 books, and my house is small so I've run out of space for more shelves, so something that can hold thousands of copies in one small space will be great. That's not to say I won't still keep the most beautiful of my books, but I won't keep the big ugly ones. Already, thanks to my ipod and the Oxford online searching a dictionary or thesaurus no longer causes wrist strain.

  9. So I'm sitting here reading your splendid text on this computer gadget thingee, and I have a couple of paper reference books lying askew on the desk (don't tell google). I can't be faithful..I'm in love with words..send me a message in a bottle...

  10. Goodness! So, the WMDs have been in England, all this time. LOL. Who'd a thunked it?! Hilarious post. Do you know, I consider myself an old fashioned woman, honestly. I love paper. The heady sensation I experience when I smell the pages of a new book. The history in the coffee stained pages of an old book, dog ears and all...Kindle and them are asking me to consider the environment, lower costs of production, portability, and all???

    It will take me a while, I can tell, to buy into the e-book.

  11. Just want to let you know that I'm passing the Beautiful Blogger Award to you, which I received from Lyn at Two Ghosts. Please pick up at my blog
    Have fun!

  12. Many thanks for your kind feedback.

    Greetings from London.



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