Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Devices and Desires - Techno-Lust

This article is about ebook readers, but I should start by saying I’m one of those Baby Boomers whose idea of a Palm Pilot is writing “Buy paper towels” on the back of my hand. Innovations and inventions fall into two categories for me. First are the ones that you can’t understand until they are demonstrated to you. Then there are the ones that you want before they ever exist.

I’m old enough to remember laughing at all the people lining up on the sidewalk to use the autoteller machines to get cash. What was THAT about? Why stay outside the bank? What if it rained? Once I tried the ATM however, it didn’t take long for me to realize the advantages: cash or deposits, 24/7 with a simple line on the pavement in front of the ATM. I was able to do without the human bank teller, they were always a little sniffy about my bank balance or lack thereof anyway!

On the other hand, I began to lust for the information superhighway before it was open to the general public. When I first started writing free-lance articles, I put together a piece called “A to Z on Where to Take the Kids in San Francisco.” I used library sources and some telephone research. Then I met a guy at a party who worked at a local television station. He said he could use their database and get in a few minutes what had taken me nearly two weeks of “sneaker research.”

The minute I heard about that instant information I wanted it. I had a bad case of database envy. My plight lasted until the Internet came along nearly 15 years later. After putting in some time getting acquainted, I fell deeply in love with the internet. Right now I’m still in the early phases of infatuation with e-books on an external reader.

I’ve already read e-books downloaded onto my computer as Adobe files or as text files from Project Gutenberg. I’ve enjoyed the immediacy of having the book within a few minutes. The last time I had that kind of instant gratification with books was when I lived on Clement Street in the days when there were five bookstores and a very good branch library within easy walking distance. Alas, only one of those bookstores remains and neither it nor the library are an easy walk for me from where I live now.

The search feature in both the Adobe and text e-books is quite useful. If I need to know, for example, where to find a scene in a tomb in Dracula, all I have to do is search and I can choose among tombs.

I haven’t been able to justify the expense of an external e-book reader yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with some excuse fairly soon! I remember a 12-hour long airplane trip where I brought two books, one short and the other quite long, to keep me occupied. I finished the short book in a few hours and I discovered a few chapters into the second one that I loathed it.

When I heard that e-book reader devices could hold up to 200 books, I was entranced at the prospect. That many books could take you through the flight, the return flight and however many delays or cancelled flights an airline could throw at you.

At this point, it’s not a matter of whether I will get an external reader for e-books, it’s a matter of which one and when!


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