Will eReaders Make the Codex Obsolete?

David Pogue on technology“I just bought a Kindle. I adore it. It will absolutely replace the printed book.” So prophesied a librarian colleague about a year ago.

EReaders are certainly an amazing and useful technology for frequent readers. But will the new technology completely eclipse the old?

EReaders are still relatively expensive, which restricts their use to affluent users. The lifespan of the actual units is limited. How long before your new eReader becomes obsolete? Two years? Think of how quickly our cell phones are evolving. In the nascent world of eReaders, the rate of technological change may be even more rapid.

Most eBooks cost about ten dollars. They are difficult to lend to others, as one might a printed book. Even if you can borrow an eBook from the library, access is limited and the software difficult to use.

We tend to forget that the printed book, or codex, is itself a technology: it was a huge step up from the scroll. Its cut pages offer terrific random access; it is portable and very cheap. So, although eBooks fill a certain need, they will never replace the printed book.

The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech
In his 10th anniversary column, New York Times technology writer David Pogue observes that, “Things don’t replace things; they just splinter.”

Hearing pundits repeatedly predict the complete obliteration of one technology by another wearies him. In Pogue’s experience, this simply does not occur.

“You want to know what the future holds?” he demands. “O.K., here you go: there will be both iPhones and Android phones. There will be both satellite radio and AM/FM. There will be both printed books and e-books. Things don’t replace things; they just add on.”

This means that libraries will continue to buy all the printed books they do now while adding a hearty subscription to an eBook lending service. Now, if only there was a technology for increasing our materials budget!



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