Kindles on the Subway

I’ve been seeing a lot more Kindles in use on my commute, as well as other ebook readers. Last night, for example, I counted three ebook readers near me.

I’m sure more than a few people are reading on their phones too — it’s how I do the bulk of my reading these days.

When things change, there’s never a big neon sign flashing “THE FUTURE IS HERE.” It just happens from day to day. I remember writing letters in college as a freshman every week. And then, by the time I graduated, I realized that I hadn’t written a letter in a long time. I can’t tell you the day the shift happened.

There are a lot of things about ebooks that bother me:

  • the lack of a good index (no, searching is not an adequate replacement)
  • the difficulty of useful random access (when the author says: “I’ll answer this question on page 167,” there’s no way to flip to that page)
  • typographical and formatting errors
  • lack of high-quality photographs and readable charts
  • the lack of designed, book-specific typography

Some of these (resolution of images) are only limits imposed by the current level of technology, but others (precise typography) may represent a cultural shift. Some aspects of physical books may never be replicated in ebooks.

When we switched from letters to emails, we lost much of the richness of handwriting: the unique way each of us forms our letters, the impromptu doodles and illustrations, how hard we press our pen into the page, quadruple underlines, physical objects sent along with the letter. But we seem to have collectively decided that the absence of these things is okay, in general, and feel no need to recreate the entirety of the experience of reading and writing letters in email.

It will be interesting to see just what aspects of physical books will never be replicated in ebooks.