Friday, 23 October 2009

When is a book not a book and when does communication...?

need something elseI am not sure what the answer to this question is but Nicola Morgan's post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure has prompted me into something I did not intend to say today.
I have never used an e-book. I may well use an e-book in the future but, for the moment, I use the dinasours I consider to be real know, those strange things made from funny flimsy pieces of paper covered in squiggly lines. I rather happen to like them and I suspect that a lot of other people do too.
e-books may be the way of the future. I do not know but I rather doubt they will take over completely in my lifetime or even the life time of the next generation. They may never take over. The reason for this may have nothing at all to do with their format but the fact that e-books require equipment and power to be read. Those things may end up in short supply and be required for other things.
Consider a book. It requires a considerable amount of power to produce but, once produced, it requires no more power to use it. We may choose to use power to use it if we read it in the Arctic winter or at night but it can be read by daylight. Daylight, at this point, is still free. We do not have to pay for it. Daylight has not, yet, broken down.
e-books require equipment, expensive equipment, in order to be used. They require power. The equipment can break down. It may also grow old and incompatible - like me. I do not know enough about this but I cannot see that scrolling backwards and forwards is as easy for the likes of me as flipping pages backwards and forwards.
It is all a little reminiscent of the argument in another area of my life. There is a "technology is good" and "technology makes you like everyone else" argument in the world of augmentative and alternative communication. People with severe communication impairments are being told that the most acceptable way to communicate is to have expensive equipment which provides you with a voice. If you can read what I am burbling on about here then you will be aware of what I mean if I say equipment which gives you the sort of artificial "voice" used by Stephen Hawking.
It may well be that this is the most acceptable way to communicate - for some and at some times or on some occasions. Like e-books however these things have limitations. The most obvious is that they can break down and, without an alternative, the person has no effective means of communication. They cannot express emotions in the way speech does. You cannot whisper. You cannot use them while in the bath or swimming pool or when the power source fails. There are undoubtedly other places you are unable to use them as well. We do those who have severe communication impairments a severe disservice when we fail to supply them with alternative means of communication. It is their right to have these alternatives at hand should they wish to use them. After all the rest of us have alternatives. We can whisper or shout as well as speak. Many people with severe speech impairments also have other difficulties which prevent them from writing a message as well. A friend once complained to me that, when he used the technology, he could never say anything private. Most advanced users of high tech speech equipment tell me they would like a low tech alternative as well, something that will not break down. They want to be able to go on using it - forever.
I think it may be the same with books, real books. I suspect we will go on using them for some time to come.


Agnieszkas Shoes said...

I have likewise never used an ebook - though my father-in-law has one because he has a visual impairment and its zoom facility means he can still read (I have seen him use it and once pressedx a key, but that's it). I have no desire to use one - ever. I think digital books will slowly take over - but not ebooks as we know them. I think intelligent paper will eventually be the future - it will feel just like a boko, and read just like a book - only when you've finished one book, it will become another.

I honestly don't know about real books. I hope they will be with us forever (I am not a minimalist - I have no interest in having one device onto whcih I can load all my books - I like having piles of books scattered so I can't see the floor). But as a writer, I am trying to accept I am in a minority, and I have to embrace new things in order to (try to) make it. I will always READ books though. Proper bokos on flimsy, temporary, unintelligent paper.

catdownunder said...

Well Dan, should you ever happen to visit, you will feel quite at home - we have books, and more books. Our shelves are double (and sometimes triple) stacked.