Monday, 20 October 2008

Reading Revolution

Sony’s digital literary movement attempts to digitize National Book Month. Their campaign calls for a “Reading Revolution” that would spread eBook libraries and handheld digital reading devices to schools and readers nationwide.

The Sony Reader has a 6 inch black and white touch screen and a battery life of up to two weeks. Sony hopes that its device will instill the positive experience of reading in Americans by removing any human element of the physical book and replacing it with a shiny, warm, thin piece of plastic.

Readers can get the illusion of turning the page with the slide of a finger and will be able to carry hundreds of books with them at all times. If you have trouble finishing one story, you can easily change to a new one in seconds or download fresh ones from an online library. The screen will captivate every human emotion in one page that will never be tainted with that musty book scent, or a deceased Grandmother’s perfume. The Sony Reader will even ward off monsters with the eerie glow of its backlight.

To enhance the joke Sony has made out of National Book Month, they have placed world record speed reader, David Farrow, on display in a New York City store front for the entirety of October. For each page Farrow reads, Sony will donate 5 Digital Readers and a library of 100 classic eBooks to schools around the nation — schools that likely already have physical versions of these books. Nevertheless, Farrow’s month in captivity, with the supplement of a bed, chair and Sony Reader, will surely demonstrate the excruciating joy of reading, via web cam, to all of America.

Digital reading devices are on par with the experience of watching an award winning movie on a portable black and white DVD player, with no audio, no ambience and no popcorn. The purpose of the book, rather, is to be the theatre for the novel, giving each word its very own place on the page, a visual and aesthetic memory for the reader.
The engineers behind this digital marvel must have assumed that since the iPod worked for music, the same would work for literature. Wrong. Music is auditory, intangible and environmental. The iPod did not ignite inexistent passion for listening; it simply made music more portable.
Reading, however, is a tangible, physical and personal experience that is already portable. How will an inferior option grasp the attention of an uninterested population? If the audience that these devices are directed at doesn’t spend a dollar on books now, why would they suddenly spend 400?

The beauty of the physical book carries two stories in its spine: The story printed in ink on paper and the story of the hands that have carried it, the hands that have left memories and traces of themselves, their thoughts, their environment, their lunch, the scent of their houses, the mark of their highlighters, the scribbling ideas and revelations of their pens, the stains of pressed flowers, bashful puckers from the rain, the sticky tabs of resonant pages and nostalgic hints of their experience. The tangible book intrigues the senses. The tangible book can be hugged, savored, sniffed, flipped, flapped, shared, gifted and remembered. It contains value and meaning. It is a respite from the chaos and monotony of everyday life. It does not need a cord or a three-year warranty.
If Sony thinks digitizing books will spark a new interest in reading, Sony needs to rethink its approach. America has made a task out of reading, stereotyping it as boring and time consuming. Maybe we need a revolution in parenting, in teaching, in cultural values. Maybe we simply need to read more.

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