Monday, June 3, 2013

My Non-Luddite Rant Over eBooks

Moving stinks, don’t it?

Especially when you possess more books than most county libraries.
This is just the foyer area...
Floor to ceiling, baby

I more than once heard exasperated friends (who’d I'd roped into helping me lug boxes around) ask whether I’d ever heard of eBooks.

Why yes. Yes I have.

See, I’m not really a Luddite. I have the smart phone, I do the Twitter thing (I still think people who tweet should be called twits, just saying)

But gosh darn it, I want to FEEL pages when I read a book. I love the wood pulp smell of my old battered paperbacks, and the dusty tang of all those gilt-edged hardbacks.

And there’s a part of me that doesn't entirely trust digital media.

Not the content, but the technological architecture and it’s susceptibility to manipulation by anyone with either power or an agenda. Since eBooks are a post-Napster commercial enterprise, the architecture is “locked”.

As opposed to, say, MP3s.

You can make MP3s to your heart’s content. There’s nothing really stopping you from playing, copying, distributing or sharing MP3 files—at least not from the technological side. The MP3 was originally a proprietary audio file format designed by Steinberg in Germany; they used to charge a licensing fee to create MP3 files. But no one programmed in DRM so somewhere along the line the genie was let out of the bottle and no power on earth can put it back in the bottle for Steinberg to control.

In other words, you are the master of your MP3 files. Enjoy that, revel in it, cackle a little maniacal cackle if you must.

It is different for your eBook.

Did you know that in 2009 Amazon pulled copies of George Orwell’s “1984” from Amazon AND FROM the eReader of everyone who had purchased the book? (They call that irony) It’d be like a publisher reaching into your bookshelf and removing the book you bought last week. It doesn’t even matter the reason the book was yanked: IT WAS YANKED. Sure, sure, the internet goes berserk when it happens, but this feature is BUILT INTO THE ARCHITECTURE.

Are you picking up the paranoia in my all caps?

Yeah it’s convenient, and yeah it feeds our instant gratification itch. But it’s not really ours so long as the technological architecture facilitates content control by anyone other than the end user.

What do you think, O great expanse of Internet?


  1. Went to the article you referenced about Amazon deleting 1984 and it just got creepier:

    Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.


  2. There is just something about a REAL book....kind of like a REAL conversation with someone. Technology cannot replace the need for human contact & ebooks cannot replace the physical & intellectual response one has to touching the pages of a book. For a recipe, or a quick read maybe the ebook is the way to go but if I want to be drawn into a book reading it on a iPad or tablet is far too cold for me.

    Ah, thinking of the bookshop in Carnforth....I shipped 2 boxes of books home from my time at Capernwray.

  3. I totally agree with you. I have several ebooks on my computer, but it is very difficult for me to read them and I most likely never will unless I print them out! However, in reference to books in general, don't you think that books are a lot like wine in the sense that 90% of them are produced to be consumed/enjoyed immediately and that's it. There are so many books and so little time! There are really only about 10% or less that are worth holding on to. Personally, I could fit the books I have read multiple times on a very small shelf. Same goes for books that I use for reference. For years and years, I read and collected books. I have also moved several times, including across the country, lugging boxes and boxes of those books everywhere I went believing every book had intrinsic value. Well, I still believe that books are very important and should be valued, but not every book is important or valuable to me. So, I have spent the last few years finding people who need or want the books I have and selling or giving them away, hundreds and hundreds of books. Even now, as I am typing this and glancing at the 2 small bookshelves I have left, several books are popping out at me that I could easily pass along. There have only been a few times when I needed a book that I had parted with and had to get it from the library or buy it for a buck or two online. On these rare occasions, the book was so good that I likely bought extra 2 or 3 copies to give to others and when I was done rereading the copy I bought for myself, I gave it away as well! Anyway, the next time I weed through my book shelves, you should come over for coffee and take a box of books home to add to your collection!

  4. Mason, I sympathize with your plight. Many of us were afraid of technology when books were first introduced, but we slowly made the transition from scrolls. It can be tough to move forward. . . .

  5. In all seriousness, I have a different perspective. I read and write for work every day, and I have ridiculous amounts of recommended reading that I hardly touch. Given kids, work, wife, etc., I just do not have a lot of time for reading. My solution? Audiobooks. I know you are blogging about ebooks, and not audiobooks, but I want to put a plug in for them anyway (pun intended). I can mow the lawn, do dishes, bike, run, etc., and catch up on my reading at the same time. Besides multi-tasking, I like audiobooks because many of the books are read by multiple narrators or characters. Why is this better? Because when I read a book, I can get confused between pages as to whose perspective is being reflected (who is talking or thinking), and who is present. In World War Z, however, there were different readers representing the different characters, many with accents representing the specific nationality of the character, which made it much easier for me to follow who was whom. Besides, now I can download audiobooks for free directly onto to my iPhone from the public library, which saves me trips to the actual building. My two cents. Mike H.

  6. Miiiiiiike!
    I had prepared a snarky response to your first comment with the zinger "Hey, I see from your IP address that you're writing from an NSA computer..." but now that you've revealed yourself my plot is foiled. FOILED I SAY!

    For the record, I have a Kindle and use it (when I remember to charge it) and enjoy the ease, etc.
    it's just that I loves my paperz bookses, they're preciousssss to me.

    I've intended to try audio books... but I don't commute, and my iPod is an antique. I think it can hold, like, 3 songs.

    I like to imagine you mowing the lawn and suddenly shouting out "No, don't go in there!" or just laughing aloud. Your neighbors probably think yer nuts. :)