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