March 2, 2024

Books: “Going the way of the Horo”

Last week, hands laden with either luggage or laziness, I don’t remember which, I asked a friend of mine for the time. An accommodating wrist stretched out, its cotton sleeve retracted and a plain black Swatch peered upwards for a moment before that same wrist plunged out of sight into a deep trouser pocket and pulled out a mobile phone. “Half five” luminated his electronic usurper and I was sickly reminded of a timeless truth given by my horological hero. [DISCLAIMER: Horology is my guilty pleasure – horology and Myleene Klass – so I do have a particular penchant for watches… and lady pianists] The founder of the Swatch Group, Nicolas G. Hayek, rightly pointed out that, today we have no need of watches to tell the time, per se, therefore watches themselves have become more of a commodity than a tool. By promoting watches as such, rather than whine, whinny and whimper at supposed “fates”, they avoided “going the way of the Dodo” so to speak. Such tetchiness however, hasn’t, as yet, been eradicated from the literary world.

I love books and now I love e-books too.

Shock! Horror! Gasp! Jiminy willickers Batman! Yes, yes I know. How dare I? Don’t I know it’s the death of our beloved book? How can I betray the sanctity of the biblio  – blah – blah – blah. Look, the prospect of there being no books in existence anymore fills me with the same sickly feeling I get when I think of Julius Caesar stupidly putting fire anywhere near the Library of Alexandria all those millennia ago. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with emotional hyperbole and instead consider what other benefits the e-book could be the harbinger of, aside from the threadbare “Green” benefits we all know and love. To do this, let’s look at the “problems” foreseen by the fearful. Bibliophiles brace yourselves and open your minds.

“Not everyone can afford a Kindle / Nook / iPad / [insert e-reader here]”

True. I myself have only tinkered with those of friends and, crises being what it they are, downloaded the free iBooks app for my ‘birthday iPod.’ However, like anything, they are plummeting in price. Since last year when my nephew was given one for his 18th birthday, the Kindle has dropped by £60! According to Moore’s tirelessly quoted ‘Law,’ every year processing speed, memory capacity and camera pixels will increase (roughly) exponentially while physical size will decrease. Skipping in merry tandem with this phenomenon is the decrease in cost of such technology. The future is bright; the future is E-bright!

“I don’t like reading on a computer device”

I couldn’t agree more. Reading on a laptop has regularly felt tantamount to the arcane torture technique of shining a lamp in the eyes. I’ve often wondered if I was expected to read for pleasure or to give up my turncoat contact across the wall. Either way a cyanide pill under the tongue seemed the most logical solution. But, as they say, if you’re hearing about it then chances are something is already being done about it. On the one hand the kindle’s “anti-glare” technology is a step towards that (though obviously something a paper book doesn’t need) but a lot still needs to be done to make e-books more viable for “bath-time” readings! If something IS being done about this aqua-nundrum then you’ll not have to worry about electrocution or soggy, crimpled books!

“E-books are still too expensive”

For the most part this isn’t entirely false. However, (triumphant but predictable “Aha!” ensues) this only applies to most modern books! The clearer winner in most people’s literary searches, I know, but the fact of the matter is that programmes such as the Gutenberg Project and the Online Library of Liberty make an incredible amount of fascinating and seminal pieces of work available to download, read, swap, send, and drool over by anybody with an internet connection. Considering Benjamin Franklin conceived the idea of instituting a “subscription library” just so people could get a glimpse of a fraction of the books here, these websites aren’t really anything to sniff at.

“Not everybody has access to the internet”

By far my most disconcerting problem. Although it’s growing increasingly difficult to think of somebody you know who doesn’t have access to the internet at home, the problem of creating an intellectual glass ceiling between the more and less affluent, by withholding books on the internet, is a sickeningly slippery slope back towards the class-system of the pre-twentieth century. Nevertheless, Internet “libraries” are the making of an unspoken revolution.

The demise of the beloved local library is another which is much agonized over but one which, again if dealt with correctly, could be thwarted. Libraries are free to join and offer internet access. Agreed? At the moment this is limited for financial reasons in most libraries but if advertising moguls and librarians joined greasy ink-stained hands and worked together they could attract a new group of non-premium-payers to libraries. This would increase literacy levels, raise education, ameliorate the minds of the masses, decrease unemployment, maintain consumerism and make the world a better place. Long, hyperbolic shot but nothing’s impossible. Ipso facto, libraries + internet = aces!

Ok my last point was little far-fetched but, in reality, no more far-fetched than the “apocalypse” which was supposed to happen in 2011 which people blew millions in preparation for; no more far-fetched than instituting a tax which would provide free healthcare for over 60 million people straight after a world war; and definitely no more far-fetched than Boris Johnson sneakily becoming Mayor of one of the greatest cities in the world. “Far-fetched” is the new “black,” ladies and gents.

Without the influx of new forms of literary media I wouldn’t be a “contributor” to a magazine and writing my far-fetched optimisms on aqua-encircled “pages” right now. E-books and magazines open up the world of literary expression and make it easier for talented individuals to gain recognition (present company excluded from that definition of course) for their hard work. Rather than just flooding the internet with talentless pulp (so to speak) this simply makes for a more selective populace. People are able to be more discerning in what they read. Glossy high-end magazines all have e-versions of their work but only the best work is selected for their tangible, newsagent print; and, thanks to advertising, the cost of the “best” printed work remains stable.

Newspapers are struggling the most with the e-revolution but there is no replacing certain aspects of books. The luxurious feel of paper between fingertips. The sound it makes as its crispness grates against its siblings as you try to gain a grip of a leaf. The beauty of a well-thought-out cover design. Proselytising apostles of Amazon Marketplace and used bookshops will ensure there will always be call for perusal. Whether it is of aisles filled with books you’ve never heard of or simply flicking through a dictionary and landing upon a word you never knew but now fancy playing with in conversation. Modern media are struggling to find even close substitutes for these and that’s my point. Rather than making “real” books obsolete there is no reason why the e-revolution won’t pedal the same tandem! For those who want to travel on a shoe-string, the extra space and weight released by a slim-line e-reader will be a godsend. Moreover, selectivity will become paramount. With information becoming more readily accessible on the internet the printed versions will have to take a leaf out of Swatch’s book and put an emphasis on luxury and quality. Better materials will need be to used, pages will become exquisite, fonts extravagant and the lost arts of etching and illustration may even have a renaissance within literature. A return of the likes of John Tenniel wouldn’t go unappreciated I’m certain!

So, when it comes to the “demise” of the printed word, don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge a fate by fear.

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