The Hidden Turn-Offs of e-Readers

I recently wrote an article about the Hidden Appeal of e-Readers in which I addressed a number of positive traits the devices have (from the perspective of someone who resisted them for a long time). And, I felt a need to address why I disliked e-readers for so long, and perhaps still do a little. I think it is important to examine both sides of the argument, because both sides have valid points. I’ll start this one with the most obvious pitfall of e-readers.

We’re losing our culture.

There is a meme floating around on the internet somewhere that depicts various different pastimes over the course of several decades. It shows someone listening to music on a stereo, reading a book, and playing video games on one side of the panel and on the other side, the same tasks performed today are all just a guy sitting at a computer. Nearly everything we do has made its way onto the computer in some fashion and it is more than a little annoying when the newest phone/tablet/computer attempts to do even more stuff in addition to what it already does. Think of your cell phone and ask yourself whether or not you’ve used all its crazy features lately. I worry about physical books going away, but, more so than that, I worry about the entire world of literature being reduced to an app that you pass over because it would be easier to play another round of Angry Birds. I wrote an entire article about writing with a notebook instead of a computer because there are just too many distractions associated with computers. These machines have a serious case of ADHD and they’re dragging you, and our culture, down with them. It’s true that not all e-readers have these functions (some are dedicated readers) but with each successive upgrade, they move more and more in that direction.

You sunk my battleship… I mean e-reader.

So, you just dropped your e-reader into a puddle of water, or onto the concrete, or down a flight of stairs. You didn’t mean to, but the deed is done and now it’s broken. I’m assuming that the library of books you have downloaded can be re-downloaded if they’re attached to your account, but replacing that device is going to cost considerably more than replacing a book (which probably would have survived the fall anyway). It’s a dangerous trade off, because you can carry more books and it is lighter, but it is also more delicate and expensive to replace. Not to mention, your book doesn’t run on batteries and the idea of a century old e-reader being unearthed and translated is kind of hilarious.

I read this great book. You should totally go buy your own copy because you can’t have mine.

When I read a book that I enjoy, I want to share it with other people. In the past, this wasn’t a problem. I would just hand them the book and hope they returned it eventually. But now, there is no way I would lend someone my e-reader and just hope they give it back. That thing was expensive and it has all my other books on it. So, if I read a good book on an e-reader, the best I can do is tell someone to download it, which is the equivalent of telling someone to go to the bookstore and purchase their own copy. Lending and trading used books/movies/video games has been a major thorn in the side of corporations who want the maximum amount of profit possible, but for us, not being able to exchange old stuff is a major drawback. How else is a good book supposed to spread by word of mouth? How can we discover gems that would have otherwise been overlooked because we hadn’t heard of it? I’m an author and when my book is published I want to have a stack of copies on hand to give to everyone who is interested in reading it. I can’t hand out e-readers or tell them to go buy a copy because I don’t have a physical one. Maybe I’m wrong and some e-readers offer an exchange feature (or they’ll just get pirated the way music is) but it can’t be as easy as handing someone a book.

Look at my impressive library, it occupies one sixteenth of a whole table!

There is an episode of the television show Futurama (which takes place in the year 3000) where the main character observes a massive building that contains a university library. Inside there is a table with two discs on it, one is labeled fiction, and the other non fiction. I don’t think there has ever been a more accurate picture of what we are staring down the barrel of. Other than our entire history being condensed onto a CD, this represents another part of the physical aspect that is in danger.

When I am able to afford my dream house, one of the most important things it needs to have is a library/study. It doesn’t need to be massive, just big enough to hold all of my books in one convenient location. With an e-reader, you don’t get the same sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed a book. One can literally feel how much they have read, and have yet to read, with a physical book. Then, once it is done, anyone who walks into your house has a visual means to measure how much you’ve read. Maybe that’s a bit self absorbed, to want to display how much I’ve read, but it doesn’t just affect a reader’s ego, it affects libraries and book stores as well. Already libraries are implementing e-books that self-delete after the designated checkout time. But what would be left if all books went digital? Would libraries just become giant public computer labs? I shudder at the thought. And, of course, book stores would be gone as well, replaced by online stores and downloads. While downloading a book is convenient, it doesn’t mean I dislike going to the book store. One of my, and my wife’s, favorite places to go is the book store where we can get a coffee and browse the new and old literature. But, like with all things in this world, it all comes down to profitability. If that book store doesn’t turn a profit, then it gets the axe, regardless of its social/cultural significance. (I’m trying very hard not to get on my soap box about corporations.)

Conclusion

I’m sure there are more downsides to e-readers, in much the same way there were more pluses than I addressed in the other article, but I think you get the idea. I’m at a place right now where I’m in between loving them and hating them. I see the advantages but can’t forget the turn-offs. Ideally, the two would co-exist as a marriage of culture and technology, but I doubt that will happen, at least in the long term. My fear may stem from an underlying problem that has nothing to do with technology, but rather a declining emphasis on education and reading in general. I would hate to see such wonderful stories, worlds and characters forgotten in favor of quick, mindless time sinks that can be instantly downloaded to your mobile electronic device.

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Comments 14 comments

klanguedoc profile image

klanguedoc 4 years ago from Canada

You make some strong M.T. Dremer. We are in a rapidly shifting world. Many of things to love and take for granted will soon be gone. One of those is the use of our hands to produce artwork and play music as these can be done today on computers. We will also lose the smell of feel of a good book, like a good pair of sleepers and a worn housecoat.

I have recently got a ereader, Kobo vox, for Christmas. While I find that we may lose some stuff in the short term; these will come back as the new technologies become old ones and they find there place next to our favorite instruments of paint brushes. we will just new ways to evolve.

I have also renewed my sense of culture by downloading about a hundred free ebooks of the great masters like Dickens, Doyle and Tolstoy. Not to mention Poe and Twain, Victor Hugo and Jules Verne and so many others. There books are now in the public domain and many of them are out of print, but they are available online.

I guess to are in the process of evolution -- I wonder if people felt the same way as we do when they started using the printed book and abandoned scroll and parchment paper.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

The part you didn't cover is what e-readers have done for unpublished authors (like myself and many other hubbers). All our unpublished, rejected by the establishment of publishing, manuscripts are now available on e-readers for little or no cost. It is finally a let-the-marketplace decide world for writers everywhere. Our work is on Amazon right beside Gresham and Longfellow. It would not be otherwise.

I do agree about passing a great book on to a friend. I just lend them my Kindle! Besides a lending option is catching on with e-authors. Give it time.


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

Actually, if the author allows it, you can lend some e-books. See http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.htm... for example.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

klanguedoc - You bring up a valid point; at one time, books were considered the new way to convey stories. I'd love to be a fly on the wall during the debate between pro and con books. I think my worry about e-readers stems from technology for the sake of technology. Is it really an advancement or just a new way to milk the consumer for their hard earned cash? I suppose we'll find out over the next few years. Thanks for the comment!

Kathleen Cochran - You're right, I didn't include unpublished authors in either article (neither a pro nor con). And it's because I'm not sure how I feel about it. The publishing industry, while often harsh, serves as a natural filter. One can expect a certain level of polish to a published book, even if the story was poorly executed. Taking away that barrier, in my mind, makes it infinitely harder to find a good book amongst all the people who think they can write, but never bother to edit beyond the first draft. Having said that, if I spend the next five years trying to find an agent/publisher and I fail, it would be nice to have e-books/self publishing as the last light of hope to ever see my book out in the real world. It's a complicated topic, one that probably deserves its own hub. Thanks for the comment!

Pcunix - Thank you for the link, I wasn't positive about the whole lending thing. I'm glad there are some options for lending e-books, but at the moment it seems like it is still easier to just hand someone a physical copy. Unless they live across the country, in which case the e-reader might have the advantage. Thanks for the comment!


capricornrising profile image

capricornrising 4 years ago from Wilmington, NC

Hear, hear, MT. No skinny glass-fronted square and microscopic chip will ever come near the feel, smell, sight and sound of cracking the cover and turning the first page of a physical book, right there in my hands.

And as for the thrill of walking into a room of book-lined walls? Shiver. I don't intend to stop collecting my beloved first editions. I hope klanguedoc is correct in that at some point all this new technology will be old at some point, and people will see the light.

Or perhaps at some point e-readers will fail to kill real books, the way digital clocks never really killed off traditional two-handed clocks.


klanguedoc profile image

klanguedoc 4 years ago from Canada

There is good and bad with any new technology. Society, evolution (knowledge) and the advancements have reached never seen before levels. for us it is mind boggling because we are in at the threshold of this quantum leap forward. However, the next generation will take it more in stride. Some things will never pass, like "hard copy" books and vinyl records, and art. But, i hope technology will make our lives better like bringing knowledge to our fingertips via the Internet. I can take so many courses, even from MIT, which were totally out of reach only a few years ago.

Digital media has open the doors for so many writers, just look here at HubPages and Suite101. Many writers are actually making their living for the first time. Look at what iTunes has done for the music industry. So many musicians and other artist who couldn't "break in" , are now internationally stars. A case in point is Arcade Fire. They won all major music awards last year and they are still an "indie" band.

I love personally love my kobo Vox ereader. I have downloaded a ton of classics that were previously out of print. But I also still enjoy a "hard copy" book. I still take my teens to the library were we loaf around browsing the different books.

Likewise museums won't disappear just because of some new mobile technology.


tyra marieza profile image

tyra marieza 4 years ago from Atlanta Georgia

You brought up some valid points, and I personally don't want an e-reader because there is nothing like feeling my fingers turn the pages of a good book. And can you believe that that is my only reason? :)


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

capricornrising - It's true that old clocks still exist, though in that instance, they're about as cheap to make (or cheaper) than digital clocks, therefore there is no risk to keep producing them. Physical books, however, do cost more to produce than e-books. But, having said that, I do hope that printed books continue into the future, even if it's just a small amount printed each year so that authors can finally hold their book in their hands. (Maybe they will be specialty stores). Thanks for the comment!

klanguedoc - You bring up a good point, about our generation being in a particularly fast moving time period. I just recently read an article about the kindle being introduced in 2007. It is crazy to think that when I was in high school, there was no such thing as an e-reader (at least not as it is now). Heck, I even remember when the internet was the 'new thing'. It all makes me feel incredibly old and I'm only 27! Thanks for the comment!

tyra marieza - I think that is a totally valid reason. Turning the page, as I mentioned, gives you a physical means to feel what you've read (or will read). It's incredibly satisfying and it's non-existent on an e-reader. Strangely enough, what I missed was the dual-page format. In other words, when you read a book, you have one page on the left and one on the right. The e-reader I have is a single page format and I find that I miss the two. Seems odd, but it's the little things that we take for granted. Either that or I'm just set in my ways. :p Thanks for the comment!


kelleyward 4 years ago

I have a love hate relationship with my kindle. I don't like not being able to write all over it but I also like how I don't have to find a new place to store all my books. Great hub!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

kelleyward - I did notice that the kindle has a notes feature so you can write something in reference to what you're reading, but it isn't as quick or convenient as just writing something down. I can't write in a book without feeling like I'm ruining it, but I can see the appeal. Thanks for the comment!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

The Kindle notes feature is clunky to use! I love the flexibility of e-readers, especially for travel, or moving house (something I've too frequently done).

Many libraries *are* becoming giant computer labs - it feels quite odd.

The smell and sight of walls of books is something I miss.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

nifwlseirff - The notes feature is kind of cumbersome to use (especially if you don't have the full keyboard), but I do think it's a nice addition considering I absolutely refuse to write on a real book. I also like the look of a wall filled with books, it just makes a room feel more alive. That probably sounds silly because a lot of people think books are stuffy, but for me it's like laying out all the journeys I've been on. In any case, I really hope libraries don't all become computer labs. It's ridiculous what those employees have to put up with! Thanks for the comment!


LaurenEC profile image

LaurenEC 4 years ago

This is a very thought-provoking article. Thanks for sharing!

I love my Kindle, especially since I've recently done quite a bit of traveling. The perks of being able to carry more than 3 books with me at a time really grew my fondness for the thing.

You bring up some good points, though. My next-door neighbor told me that she's already on her third Kindle since she keeps breaking them, which is a definite downside. The worst I can do to my paperbacks are breaking the spines and smudging the pages (unless I drop it into a puddle like you mentioned), and they're a lot cheaper to replace should I decide to.

I have yet to go read your perks of e-readers article (heading there next) and I don't know whether it should be considered a pro or a con, but another interesting consideration I've heard about is the boost certain types of novels, such as romances, have gotten from e-readers since it's no longer obvious to everyone in sight that you're reading a bodice-ripper from the cover. I don't know if I'm ready to endorse this phenomenon, but there's something to be said for the privacy an e-reader offers. (Though, on the other hand, it means you miss out on spontaneous conversations like, "Oh, I've read that! ...") Likewise, I hope the ease of accessing the classics has increased readership. (I know it's made it easier for me when I don't have to worry about getting through Anna Karenina in two weeks before it's due back at the library ...)

Anyway, again, thanks for sharing. It's an interesting topic.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

LaurenEC - You're absolutely right about the privacy thing. Even if you aren't reading a bodice-ripper, some people just don't like when other people comment on what they're reading. For every great conversation that starts up about a book, there is an equal amount of negative comments. Controversial novels can do that, and, in some cases, adults reading children's novels can get negative feedback. Granted, this all depends on where you read the book, but I can understand the desire to avoid those interactions entirely. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

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