Do Readers Dream of E-lectric Books?

I’ve wanted an e-ink energy efficient ebook reader for some time, but as I do not travel very often and I have a reasonably low income, I have never been able to suffer the price of it.  When I confess to this while amongst my more affluent (the word affluent here meaning securely employed) and gadget-savvy friends I get a lot of strange looks.

‘But how do you read ebooks?’ they ask, as well as ‘Surely the lower cost of ebooks for a reader would be better for your small income than buying hardcopy!’

This reveals an attitude towards ebook consumption that baffles me.  Isn’t it common knowledge that there are a lot of public domain and generously creative commons ebooks that are released in non-DRM and often .txt formats?  Isn’t it common knowledge that you can not only run ebook purchasing and .pdf reading software on your PC, but also use simpler and easier formats that work with software bundled in most operating systems?

My most important question is mainly raised by these gadget using friends, many of whom have had top-of-the-line phones for the last decade.  Why aren’t you using devices that you already own and are in contact with throughout your day to read ebooks?

I feel the need to make some affirmations here and now, that a lot of people do not seem to be aware of.

You can read ebooks on your phone

Not necessarily the DRM-ful .pdfs, but most phone models are capable of opening basic text files and there are many free software options that can convert .txt, .pdf and other formats into java applets that can run on your phone.  If you have polyphonic ringtones and colourful games, chances are with an hour of google-fu you’ll be able to read books.

ebooks are not restricted or expensive

Project Gutenberg is quite comprehensive, and has downloadable .rtf and .txt versions of so many public domain books that most bibliophiles will never read them all.  I’ve known about it for years, and it shocks me daily how many of my bookish friends don’t seem to know of it when our conversations turn to ebooks.  Project Gutenberg is free.  Project Gutenberg has Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland, and The Pickwick Papers.  In multiple languages, often, for the more popular books in particular.  There is much fun to be had.

Creative Commons books are newer (effectively within copyright by law), but freely available for copying and download and usually conversion to whatever format your computer, dedicated ebook reader or phone needs.  There are more restrictions than public domain, but Creative Commons is incredibly rad and you can find all the guidelines at the site I’ve linked.

All gadgets are only as useful as they are useful

A common criticism of solar panels is the resource cost of creation and development that may not be clear to the consumer.  While many people are excited by the energy efficiency of e-ink, there are more things in my mind to consider.  The energy cost of creating the device, as well as the cost of recycling or destroying it at the end of its usable life should factor in to any decision to buy a gadget.  Even if I had reliable income I am unlikely to run and purchase an ebook reader because my need is not greater in my mind than the cost.  If I travelled, weight of books and energy consumption may indeed make the device worthwhile, and I love e-ink readers for this very reason.  But my lifestyle means it is far more efficient and rational to simply use devices I tend to be passively using while reading (phone, PC, laptop) than to buy into the production of another device, another charger and battery.

I can knit while I read

This is not a mentionable point for most people, but knitting is often tedious and I love being able to knit and read without juggling things in my lap.  I can simply page down with the end of one needle as I go, which is quite lovely and convenient. This works better with computers than phones or ebook readers.

I do hope one day to have the income and lifestyle that would justify the purchase of an ebook reader, but for the moment I simply live a life of rampant and indulgent consumption of ebooks and invite others to explore the versatility and usefulness of ‘ebooks’ in their lives.

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