I bought my first Kindle e-book reader in 2008, but after just a few months had gone tired of it, having the usual complaints about it –- the six-inch screen was too small and its black font on a grayish background dull for me, making me sleepy.
More importantly, I preferred holding a “real” book. I enjoyed flipping through its pages, and even tossing it to the floor when I got sleepy. Since my childhood, I enjoyed sniffing that particular smell of a brand-new book — which an e-book obviously doesn’t have.
However, I still maintained an interest in e-books – even ordering many of them – because of a clever move by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos: He had a “Kindle” application for PCs and Macs. That is, you can read the e-books you bought from Amazon if you have that software installed in your computer, and I found that my laptop’s bright screen made me less sleepy than the Kindle.
Five e-book readers opened to the same book (counter-clockwise): iMac, Kindle, iPad Mini, iPhone, and Macbook.
Ironically, it was not a Jeff Bezos’ creation but that of Steve Jobs’ that reawakened by interest in e-books: the iPad, which had a Kindle apps, and the tablet’s bright screen was better than a Kindle’s. If you’re wondering why Apple downsized its iPad into the iPad Mini, it is intended to compete with Kindle and the many other e-readers (Nook, Sony, Samsung among others) that have deluged the market. The iPhone as well as smart phones with big screens such as the Galaxy can have the Kindle application, and many people use these as a ebook readers on the go.
To write my columns, I don’t just look up the ceiling and muse. I look for data and experts’ insights, and historical precedents, which often aren’t available in websites, but only in recently published books. But it takes at least a month for Amazon to deliver an actual book to where I live outside the metropolis. The miracle of technology and e-books: Amazon delivers a Kindle book as if it just texted me, in time for me to read it to help me write my column for tomorrow.
I reviewed (criticized) Ruchir Sarma’s Breakout Nations released April this year for a column, without having to drive all the way to Makati to buy a copy from the bookstore: I bought a kindle version. I quickly had an idea of how another President in another country similarly tried to control the Supreme Court there by ordering FDR v The Constitution as a Kindle version, which gave me insights for my columns during Chief Justice Corona’s impeachment. I recently gave away Steven Cave’s Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization, to find out later that it was the only copy sold (by La Solidaridad) in the Philippines. But it was a good book and I just had to write a column on it, and I needed some quotes. A few clicks on my keyboard, and I had an electronic copy on my screen.
The realization has recently dawned on me: Just as computers slowly but surely made typewriters obsolete, e-books could be replacing books in our lifetimes. The reasons most people give, including me, for not liking eBooks are in the same genre as those who still use typewriters give – that they relish the loud clicking of the machine, the smell of bond paper and the ribbon ink, and so on. But obviously we don’t miss now those romantic sensual inputs of a typewriter and its papers.
But remember how computers gradually, but totally replaced typewriters? We all hated the green on black screens with a single font of the first computers. In a few years though, we had computer scree which emulated ink on paper, with a hundred of fonts and sizes, making the typewriter so primitive with only one font and size. Writers disliked the first computers since they couldn’t carry them around. Voila! In a few years we had the laptop.
It would be the same march of technology in the case of e-book readers. Already –although I’m still saving up to buy one — the newest Kindle model “Paperwhite” has a screen said to be as sharp and clear as a book’s page, no longer the dull black on grey in the model I bought five years ago. Pretty soon, they will have e-book readers as thin and as big as a magazine, which they could even make shockproof so that you could drop it intact on the floor if you doze of.
After all it’s all a trick of the mind. You decipher certain patterns of ink on paper, and in your mind you’d be transported into some magical land of fictionalized characters or abstract concepts. The patterns are merely built from modern material in an e-book reader, and with some practice you’ll also be transported as easily as a book does.
E-books represent such a revolution that will change mankind. They make up the most recent event in the big bang that is the explosion in the global dissemination of information and knowledge which computers and the Internet triggered just in the past two decades. But probably half of the World Wide Web’s content are trash – pornography (30 percent of internet traffic according to a study), websites and blogs by narcissists and weirdoes, scams – or near trash, that is advertisements.
E-books though — most at least — are the products of mankind’s search for wisdom and knowledge, since precisely they are electronic versions of books. These obviously took a lot of effort, wisdom, or knowledge to write or else they wouldn’t have been published in the first place or forgotten that no one would be interested to digitize them.
We here in the Philippines – which is sadly, I think, not a nation of readers – have largely been oblivious in the revolution of e-books. Project Gutenberg – made up of volunteers wanting only to preserve and disseminate have digitized over 42,000 books, including the classics of English literature, and you can download these any time. University libraries in the US and Europe are digitizing their collections written before 1900 – which legally are royalty free. Many American libraries are renting – not the books themselves – but the e-book versions, and you don’t have to go to the library itself but just log on their websites.
There are even websites telling you where to download thousands of free e-books. The “Torrent file” distribution networks in the worldwide web have hundreds of thousands of books – even recent New York Times best sellers, Oxford University academic titles, and encyclopedias. Somebody gave me a disc containing — believe it or not five hundred books of classics, recent philosophy books and best-sellers.
My wife and I had this dream of collecting the classics of English literature to read in our retirement. We have about a dozen – and hundreds in my iMac downloaded for free. I wanted to collect the works of Plato and other Greek philosophers. I have them now in my computer, to be downloaded to my Kindle or iPad when I decide to read them.
I have the e-book version of the Bible in my IPhone (yes, it works as an eBook reader), so that one of these days I’ll challenge a bible-quoting fundamentalist on the spot what he thinks about certain biblical passages as 1 Timothy 2:12. The high school library at the Ateneo when I was there banned Marx Das Kapital and even the sex-classic Kama Sutra. You can download them for free in the Internet. I downloaded Joseph Goebbel’s The Power of Propaganda, which isn’t in any bookstore here, to better understand President Aquino’s continued popularity, which I did.
E-books could be a revolution in the democratization of knowledge in our country that has one of the worst income gaps in the world, in which the cost of a hard-bound book represents a laborer’s weekly salary.
Most of the minimum level of information and knowledge a modern man has – even one living in the developed countries – are now contained in free digitized books. These can be downloaded in few minutes and read in any computer. Or even in a cell phone with a large screen.
Just imagine: Instead of a nation of texters sending jokes or unending hellos, a nation reading books on their cell phones. Just imagine if all our students were given free e-books, and they just had to schedule half an hour in the school’s computer center to download all the books they need. Well, imagine if instead of pirating songs and movies, our brilliant hackers would just download all the good books in the world and distribute them to schools.