Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Future of Books

Books. They’ve been around in one form or another for over 1500 years. From the hand written scrolls and codices of antiquity and the middle ages to the more familiar printed books of the modern era, these vehicles of information transmission have been used to tell humanity’s story.

Read by rich and poor, young and old, they have been there to provide information and entertainment to anyone who cares to pick one up. You have always been able to rely on a book for a good diversion from whatever it is you might be doing. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Wherever you go you are likely to find books. They are as ubiquitous as food, water, and even the air we breathe. And just as food, water and air are the inalienable rights of man, public libraries have ensured that this is true for books as well.

A world without books would be a sad place indeed. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I can not live without books.” Well, if President Jefferson were alive today, the next few years might very well kill him.

Why is this, you might ask? No one is claiming that novels and history are going to stop being written down. It is merely the method by which they will be read that is changing. Namely, E-books or electronic books. Advancing technology has allowed for devices such as Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Amazon.com’s Kindle to supplant physical books. And they are gaining widespread acceptance very quickly. In fact, Amazon.com has been selling more e-books than paper ones since April of 2011.

For those of you who don’t know, these devices, E-readers, operate in much the same way that a regular book does, but with several advantages. Rather than each book being a separate, individual item, these devices can store hundreds of books apiece. You can conceivably have your entire library on this one small device. That is a major space saver. It also makes it easier to carry your books around with you. This is important especially for school children. With the weight of their textbooks, children are at risk of back injuries. In fact in 2001 over 7,000 emergency room visits were attributed to children’s backpacks being too heavy. With an E-reader (or even some sort of tablet PC) most of that weight could be eliminated.

Purchasing new books is also easier. In the 20th century, if you wanted a new book, you would have to go to your local bookstore or library to pick one up. Then the internet came along, allowing you to order books online. Much simpler, but you still had to wait several days for your books to arrive. With an E-reader, you use the device to look for a book in much the same way you might on Amazon.com. But once you purchase it, instead of waiting several days for your book to arrive, it is on your device and ready to be ready within 60 seconds.

Besides safety and convenience, there is also the environmental impact. Approximately 30 million trees are felled annually for book production in the United States alone. This figure should reduce dramatically over the coming years as more people switch away from paper books to digital books.

And while it’s true that an E-reader can’t reproduce the smell and feel of a well read paper book, this perhaps is a small price to pay for the numerous benefits that E-readers provide.

In the future people will still be reading just as they are today. Entire new worlds of ideas and adventures will still await the curious mind that seeks them. But you won’t have to head to the bookshelf to access them; you’ll have to look no further than your pocket.

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