21st Century Digital Boy, I Know How to Read, and I got a Few Toys

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(Image Credit)

I’m a little conflicted about my first book being published strictly electronically (at least at first). I understand my publisher’s reasoning for switching over entirely to ebooks a few years ago – next to the larger houses his company is small, and his ebooks were outselling his paperbacks by a mile. The publishing industry (like the film and music industries) is in the midst of an evolution from hard physical media you can hold in your hands, to strictly digital media, every byte of which you consume on a central device developed by a third-party company partially for that purpose (more than likely a tablet computer). Undeniably this is the long-term direction of every method in which we watch, listen or read. As of this past February, more than one-fifth of Americans had read a book electronically. This may not seem terribly much, but it’s up from 17% only a few months previously. These spikes in ebook sales seem to coincide with a given year’s holiday season – from October 2010 to January 2011, ebooks jumped from 5 to 13% of the total market share.

I’m too lazy at the moment to look up the similar numbers on movie and music sales. I know i personally haven’t purchased a CD in years.

In almost every way, this is an entirely good development. To paraphrase a comment Ed once made in a post at Gin and Tacos, the mp3 player took what was once a space-consuming collection of pieces of fragile plastic (records, CDs, tapes) that required time and energy in upkeep, and turned it into essentially an indestructible archive which can fit in your pocket. It’s hard to see any negatives at all in such a development.

To Ed’s point, I would add the realization of a secondary benefit in the form of publishing democratization, and additional routes to gaining a wide audience. Say what you will about their artistic merits, but it’s easy to forget that pop star Justin Bieber and pulp romance author E.L. James were each self-published (Mister Bieber on youtube, Miss James via fan fiction) unknowns before they were worldwide phenomenons. Each of them made a lot of people very rich and found audiences the likes of which will remain a pipe dream to almost anyone in their field. Who knows if either would be enjoying their present career if they’d been forced to pursue more traditional means of gaining industry notice?

Again, this is an entirely positive development. Score one for electronic media.

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(William Safire. Image Credit)

Yet some part of me may never feel ‘published’ (in that sense that every wannabe writer yearns for) without actually holding a hard, paper book in my hands. An electronic book could sell a hundred thousand copies and I may still feel as if something is lacking. I won’t wax philosophic about the look and feel of a book in your hands; anyone reading this knows that feeling well enough and doesn’t need it described. I can remember when I was a kid our local library didn’t have a copy of The Neverending Story, so my mom had the librarian order it. When it didn’t arrive on the day she said it would, I literally started crying right there in the library. (And yes, I was kind of a wussy kid. Sue me.) I’m not sure if I can adequately describe my unbearable excitement when the book finally got there. I don’t think I put it down until it was finished, skipping homework, Nintendo, television and sleeping (I definitely didn’t miss any meals, though – I was a fat wussy kid).

And that’s where I become suspicious of my own nostalgia, as we should be suspicious of almost any nostalgia. I have a good feeling about having had to wait for my prized book. The excitement of its arrival is still so powerful in my conscious that it still gives me a little adrenalin hit even thinking about it. In the ebook era, this will never happen. Books are delivered to an electronic device instantaneously, no waiting weeks, no crushing disappointment when the librarian tells you the package was late, no euphoria when it finally arrives.

But that’s a good thing. Right? I confess I don’t even really know. I’m not qualified to say what never having to wait for anything will do our personalities and attention spans in the long-term. The grumpy curmudgeon in me wants to have a back-in-my-day nostalgia session. The sensible forward thinker in me knows that, in spite of our rose-colored glasses directed behind us, most developments tend to be positive. Sure it was exciting picking out a new record at the music store, but heaven help you if you left that thing in the car in August. The 1950s may have been a kinder, simpler time of Leave it to Beaver traditional values, but they were also racism and sexism and the threat of nuclear war. Almost any development, in spite of the wistfulness of dinosaurs like me, is a remarkable improvement over what it replaced.

It’s a strange time of transition for how we view our entertainment. I can imagine stage actors and technicians feeling a similar sense of pining for the Good Ol’ Days when the movie industry exploded in the early 20th century. Given the growth and trajectory of the various electronic media industries, it’s possible the person who will never read, listen to, play or watch a piece of hard-copy media has already been born. When I meet him, I’ll be sure to tell him to get offa my lawn.

(Also, title homage.)

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~ by kroveechernila on December 12, 2012.

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