Sunday, January 15, 2006


When I was at school, way back some time in the dark ages, I had a cartridge pen. This technological dinosaur was a pen with a nib fuelled by a little cartridge of ink. You could write seventeen and a half words and then you had to change the cartridge. I'm sure the manufacturers would have argued for a higher word count, but they wouldn't make any allowance for the gallon of ink seeping all over your hands/shirt/desk as you wrote.

But at the time we were told that an ink pen was better for you. I think teachers may have meant better for hand writing development, or maybe better in delaying the onset of Repetitive Strain Injury, but somehow there was always a sense that it was better for you morally and socially. I compromised with a predilection for ridiculously expensive graphic design pens.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, because the issue of the technology of writing is explored in today's Observer, and it's interesting to see what difference developments might make to the written text of the future. Super-geeks are currently busy trying to figure out how to make a portable reading device to rival the commercial success of the iPod. The trouble they're having is that we already have a superbly efficient portable reading device. It's called a book...

Lots of e-books are already available for download onto your PC, but people haven't really gone for them in a big way because most people like the whole experience of book reading and the flexibility of the format. It requires no electricity (unless it's dark, but then I guess we have candles...) so can be done in the bath or up a mountain; many books will fit in your bag or even a large pocket; you can flick at random between the pages; you can write on them, tear bits out to write a note for the milkman on; and you can leave them on planes and trains for other people to enjoy. Bit tricky doing that if you need a grand's worth of kit.

But what people also seem to enjoy is the aesthetic value of paper and ink. Not me, I have an issue with ink and prefer the sterile cleanliness of my PC screen. But that is what the techies are working on: how to create something with the same aesthetic satisfaction. They've already invented e-ink to replicate the visual appeal of the writing, but I'm sure replicating the "feel" of paper will be a big challenge.

As the people most likely to adopt this technology, young people generally being at the forefront of these things, how would you want e-books to be?

And if anyone tells you that 'real' books are better for you, take the moral high ground with the environmental argument. Check it out.

E-read all about it


At 4:09 pm, Anonymous Rosie said...

E-books... strange concept really, but one which will no doubt catch on. I'm young and an avid reader, but I don't think that I'd particularly want to read for pleasure on an electronic device. After a while the computer makes the eyes ache so I wouldn't want to go home to do some reading and stare at another back-lit screen. For text books (it mentioned that on the link you gave at the bottom of the page) then that would be efficient, since most people are unlikely to enjoy carrying round lots of books, and could look up things in an instant, but for reading for leisure I can't see it being particularly enjoyable. Personally, I plan on sticking with the printed word as long as I can get it!

At 8:49 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Julie, I'm presenting my paper on blogging at the NATE conference in the same slot as you. Just thought I'd pop up and say hello.

See you on Saturday

Carrie McMillan

At 10:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well good wat

At 7:08 pm, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

It's also hard to read ebooks with a cat sprawled out on top of you, or in bed without waking someone else up.

But I loved your paragraph about the joys of print books - especially writing on them, or lending them out, or leaving them for others - and was a bit startled when, at the end of it, you announced your allegiance to electrons!

At 7:23 pm, Blogger Ayisha said...

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At 11:27 pm, Anonymous Waterman Pens said...

great post!!


At 8:22 pm, Anonymous Emir said...

Somehow it reminds of that Simpsons episode where Marge asks the children to mow the lawn to which they moan and say that they want to go to the fair.
Then they get there and the first thing the children do is ask Marge for money to play Virtual Grass Cutting.

Why would anyone need to carry around a library? Nothing could replace that aesthetic feel.
Im young and have grown up with Cds as my main musical format yet i much prefer records; The large artwork, the physical act of putting it on the deck, choosing the speed, the needle.....

Just as i'd never buy any wheel that wasn't round, i'd never buy one.

I suppose it may be handy for us students who have lots of textbooks.

Emir X

At 1:35 pm, Anonymous Xerox Ink said...

The technology control of every aspect of our lives. I hate technology, and I miss the simple days. There is nothing more fun from reading real books with paper, ink and pictures. E-books are boring, and after reading a page or two, I begin to fill tired. Computers exhausting the eyes. Sometimes my back hearts from seating for a long time in front of the computer's screen. It’s also more enjoyable writing a note, then to type on keyboard.

At 7:19 am, Anonymous sprachreisen spanien said...

E-books are not really very helpful. Books like what we get in library are great for knowledge. E-books are just a source of income not for knowledge. It's for maximum books...not for all.

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