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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kindling the Future*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
February 6, 2010
as "Taking digital for a test-read"

In recent years, we’ve seen the beginnings of the next big tech turning point. Digital readers have passed the novelty stage and have gone fully mainstream. Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, the Nook from Barnes & Noble, and the Sony Reader are the big players that have hit the marketplace. And the shift from analog to digital marches on.

Star Trek fans recognize the genesis of these devices. In the 1980s “Next Generation” series, the Enterprise crew carried around a small flat device called a PADD (Personal Access Display Device). This gadget not only carried documents, but had fulltime wireless access to the ship’s computer. Nowadays, you don’t have to join Starfleet to own a similar device. The nearest Wal-Mart will suffice.

I bought my wife a Kindle for Christmas, and have watched as she has begun to download and read ebooks. For once in our lives, she has taken a tech step ahead of me. While I readily see the advantage of ebook readers, I’m still bound to tradition as far as books are concerned. I love the smell of the paper, glue, and ink; the feel of the binding and the cover. And that moment when I open a new book for the first time, then settling back in the cushions for an afternoon spent in another world.

In some respects, I’m kind of old-fashioned.  However, I don’t think of myself as a curmudgeon. I do like the idea of being able to pack around a number of books in a nearly weightless (by comparison) container. Having struggled through airports with a shoulder bag packed with 10 pounds of reading material, I understand the convenience. I also know that as more and more people make the switch, the demand for paper products, and therefore trees, will decline.

At some point in the (hopefully) near future, academic publishers will get with the ticket and vend their wares digitally. Orthopedic doctors have for years been saying how harmful it is for kids to haul heavy backpacks. There are only two groups that require people to run uphill carrying 50 pounds on their backs: Navy SEALs and your local middle school.

College students will also see considerable savings, since the price of an ebook is usually about a third of the hard cover price. Of course, this will end one of the biggest scams there is. Selling a biology textbook in August for $150, and buying it back in December for five bucks.

I’ve been saving up two of Edmund Morris’ excellent biographical series on Theodore Roosevelt. At the last visit to Barnes & Noble, they wanted $35 a piece. But borrowing Cheryl’s Kindle, I found them there in digital form for less than ten dollars each. Plus, they let you download a sample for free so you can decide whether to spend the money.

I downloaded the sample and began to read. The controls were easy to work, the text was easy to read, and for a few moments, I felt so 21st-century.

But I have to admit that even after finishing the sample text, I felt a little cheated. I’ve always had an affection for the heft of a real book in my hands. I guess I feel that knowledge should weigh something. Plus, a book looks great on a shelf. Scanning the titles, I can briefly revisit them, much as someone might drop by to visit an old friend.

You don’t have to “turn off and stow” a book when your plane is landing.  You can keep reading right up to the gate.  And you don’t have to plug a book into the wall.

I suppose that I’ll get with it sooner or later. I can, and have embraced the inexorable future and let go of the past, however fond my recollections. I happiily abandoned the typewriter when I discovered that a computer doesn’t require whiteout. I left the telephone gathering dust when my smart phone arrived. CD’s and DVD’s are better and take up far less room than albums and tapes.  A thumb drive is way better than a floppy, which was a huge improvement over the Big Chief tablet. In the next 20 years or so, we will be awed by unimaginable technological marvels. And if I’m going to be relevant to this new century, I’ll have to embrace the new.

Even though you can’t press a rose with a Kindle.
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