E-books Are Better than Nailguns
Saying that e-books are better than codices is like saying that nail guns are better than hammers. Nobody appears to be fretting that nail guns will replace hammers, because they are both useful tools for different situations.
Likewise, an e-book is fantastic for several kinds of writing:
- Not-so-demanding non-fiction like a good number of biographies and histories that are story-based
- Newspaper and Periodical articles
- Reference works with short entries, like dictionaries
But the codex is still a better technology (and it is a technology, even if we don’t think of it that way) for other kinds of writing:
- Demanding non-fiction (or, I suppose demanding fiction!)
- Any kind of writing with lots of footnotes and diagrams
- Any kind of writing that require me to flip back and forth between pages
- the Bible
Sometimes, I buy a book for Kindle despite the superiority of the codex experience (for that particular title) because the Kindle book is either a) so cheap or b) so portable that it is therefore actually likely to be read. Yes, I might get more out of Jonathan Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits if I had the authoritative Yale edition that I could mark up with different color highlighters to trace the thought flow. But I’d also be out fifty bucks (I’m still considering it…), whereas a Kindle version is ninety-nine cents. And I always have my Kindle or Kindle apps with me, whereas I simply cannot lug around my stack of to-read codices everywhere I go.
I think it will take some time for society to figure out that e-books don’t have to be the death-knell for print books, that the two can coexist. The invention of the telephone required the renegotiation and even the invention of certain customs. And somehow despite the telephone’s near ubiquity nowadays, people still sometimes talk to each other in person.