Why I’m not buying an e-reader just yet: digital content and identity

Like many people, I love books. I mean that quite literally – I very much enjoy reading, but that is different. I also have an emotional attachment to books as physical objects. I still remember attending a talk when I was 17 where the speaker mentioned in passing that he had a habit of visiting bookshops or libraries when he was feeling upset. The books calmed him down. With a jolt I realised that I was exactly the same. Without shame I have resorted to the calming presence of books in my times of need ever since.

Being around books is good, but being around my books is even better. We have just moved house and one of the things that disturbs me most is that we have only managed to put a few bookshelves up. Most of our book collection, which is reasonably extensive, is sitting in boxes in our garage, and there is something very wrong about that.

And don’t even mention the term “e-reader”. The thought of one brings me out in a cold sweat.

I have just had a moment of clarity about why all this is. In Martin Weller’s excellent new book, “The Digital Scholar”, he spends a chapter considering the lessons from the newspaper and music industries. He is considering why music downloads are such an emotive issue:

“For my generation, you partly constructed your identity around what you owned – your bookshelf, record collection and DVD archive were important aspects of who you were…But for the digital generation this strong link with ownership has been broken.”

I and my wife (whose attachment to books is even greater than mine) belong to the same generation as Professor Weller, and he has completely put his finger on the issue. The books represent who we are. There are a wide range of novels from authors we like, non-fiction works that reflect our various interests – from history and philosophy to gardening and art. The physical books represent, reinforce and display who we are. Any number of files stored on an e-reader could not do the same.

No doubt over time the e-readers will become cheaper, and convenience and price will lead to their triumph. A new generation will define themselves differently, by their social networking profiles I guess. But my generation will, I think, ensure that physical books are around for a while yet. And there are even some signs of hope for the next generation. We have had to put in bigger shelves to accommodate my daughter’s growing book collection.



Filed under H808 the eLearning Professional

5 responses to “Why I’m not buying an e-reader just yet: digital content and identity

  1. dekabrista

    I unterstand your point oft view … My books, my life … Anyway more important ist the knowledge you receive, not the plain materia that fills your shelves. Considering this E-Books are great.

  2. Thanks for the comment on the book. I think like many things it’s not an either/or.
    I love books, and when we moved house recently it was getting the bookshelves up and books on display that made it feel like home. However, there are lots of books I don’t need to own physical copies of. Academic books are often an example – I want them for a particular reason, or to read some sections – the ebook version is often adequate for this. So I think books, unlike music, will probably have more of a mixed economy.

  3. Sukaina

    Hi Daniel
    I share your affection and attachment with books, but since I was given a Kindle eReader I have started to enjoy reading on screen too. The Kindle is great for linear text and really feels very bookish. And reading PDFs and academic stuff on an iPad is great – much better than paper.
    I find that the Kindle is not so great for textbooks actually because I can’t flick around so easily and kind of read two sections at once (if you know what I mean), but perhaps I need to get used to it. Actually I have bought a paper copy of Marin Weller’s book because (seriously) I thought it would look nice on my bookshelf and I would enjoy dipping into it, even though I can read in open access format online for free.

  4. Thanks all for the comments. I’m sure I will succumb to an e-reader sooner or later. They are really portable, convenient, and I can see real value in search functions. But I think we are all agreed that physical books have an aesthetic/romantic value over and above the actual act of reading…

    • dekabrista

      Sure … like money *grin* …

      But another value of the E-Reader is: people can buy all those incredible “BESTSELLERS”, that (if you can read them at all) you can read only once. When the book is finished, it doesn’t take up too much space. I think the publishing companies count on this. People consume more of this ‘cheap’ literature, that gets read really quickly and noone wants to see on his shelves.

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