Apple’s e-book will take the joy out of reading - Monocolumn | Monocle


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23 January 2012

And so Apple continues its onward march towards world domination. Not content with sexing-up computers and transforming the way we watch and listen to digital content, the multi-billion dollar company is now focused on the lucrative e-book market.

Faced with competition from Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple last week started selling interactive educational textbooks for its iPad. Its aim? Armies of spotty youths devouring everything from a history lesson on the Second World War to an algebra equation on the device.

It’s easy to see that the e-book is a clever piece of kit. An e-book reader allows you to store loads of books on one gadget – good news for intrepid travellers and students who no longer have to pack a satchel full of weighty tomes.

But as desirable as the iPad is – or the horde of other e-book readers out there – their popularity remains a mystery to me. Reading on an anodyne device takes the joy out of reading. Unless, of course, your aim is demolishing that raunchy Mills & Boon novel on the tube undetected.

Targeting children is without doubt a clever move. They always want the latest fads and gizmos. But Apple’s move is hardly democratic: iPads still cost a fortune, meaning that unless a school is prepared to stump up the cash, a classroom could easily become polarised between the pads and pad-nots.

Textbooks are there to be handed down from generation to generation. They’re there to be used as a makeshift weapon, umbrella or Frisbee. They’re there to be scribbled on, annotated and daubed with highlighter pen. How can an e-book reader compete?

You see, reading a traditional book is actually all about multitasking. Happy days for all you men who didn’t think you had it in you. Picking up the latest novel doesn’t just rely on reading the words. It’s also about touch: the feel of the paper on your fingers; the cracks on the surface of the spine; folding down the corner of a page.

Along with the smell of a new book, these are experiences a digital version simply can’t replicate. What a boring world we’d live in if everyone read e-books. Like subservient cyborgs, we’d spend our entire day glued to one sort of screen or another: the computer at work, the smartphone on the commute, the flatscreen TV and e-book reader at home.

Call me a hopeless romantic, or a desperately out-of-touch Luddite, but paper books – real books – are the only medium able to deliver a genuine reading experience. Although those spotty youths out there may well disagree.


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