The smell of an old book. The heft of a thick novel. The sensation of turning the last page of a ripping yarn with a freshly licked index finger. It’s all a bit silly, and kind of gross.
Old books smell because they’re rotting. Heavy books require dead trees and burnt fuel, as millions of them are shipped around the globe each year. Digitization preserves books forever while all but eliminating their environmental consequences. There are good reasons to resist e-books, but erotic fixation isn’t one of them.
The advantages of paper books arise not from their weight, their texture or any other feature unique to them, but from the features they lack. You can’t check your email from a book. Books don’t suddenly serve you pop-up ads in high-resolution video. Books don’t allow you to instantly stream porn or play addictive bird-flinging games whenever a narrative gets dull. Books are made to be read, and that’s all they’re good for. They are dedicated hardware.
Until recently, e-readers like the Kindle, Nook and Kobo have also been single-purpose machines, designed for nothing but book reading. Since the iPad, that’s changed. To compete with Apple, e-readers have become fully functional general-purpose computers. You can still buy basic e-ink devices, but these will soon be phased out as the new versions take over. On the new gadgets, book reading is just one of many apps, and not a terribly popular one: Google Books is ranked number 63 on the Android charts, behind Netflix, Pokémon and a video game called Drunken Pee. Apple’s iBooks sits at number 53, behind Sudoku and a Tim Hortons app. The fact is, the new e-readers aren’t electronic readers at all. They’re tablets.
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