E-book overload

February 13, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog

Typical e-book readers today have a few gigabytes of memory, enabling holding thousands of books.

Where did the choice for this amount of memory come from? Am I missing something? What is the value of holding that many books? Even if you were trapped on a desert island you would die before finishing reading them, leaving aside the issue of recharging the battery.

On the face of it you could say you never know when you might want to read a given book, so why not have it available. Many books are available for free, presumably everything in the public domain that someone has taken the time to convert.

How does having all those books available improve your life? Alternatively, if you had 5,000 books available to you and then you lost all of them, or even half, do you think your life would be worse or do you think you’d recover? I’ll bet anyone and everyone could recover from the loss. By corollary they wouldn’t gain much emotional reward from the gain in the first place.

I’ll also bet people who have more than a few dozen books have read a lot of first chapters of those books, fewer second chapters, and almost no complete books. For them, for all the value they place on books, what does it say about their content if they don’t finish what the author wrote?

You could say the vendors have to find ways to differentiate themselves and offer greater value for their particular product over competitors, but they communicate a weird message by implying value in the number of books a reader can hold. It implies any one book is not that valuable or else why would you want or need so many other. It implies collections are more valuable than books — like they are a commodity, as opposed to individual works to be read and reread.

If you want to improve your life, like most I agree books are a great way to do so for all the obvious reasons — you access others’ thoughts and ideas, expand your horizons, learn, and so on. If you expect to improve your life by getting more than a few dozen books, I suspect you misunderstand both what brings emotional reward and the value of a book. I suggest it makes sense to ignore much of the message vendors signal about their own product in evaluating it for its contribution to your life.

I used to think I might be spoiled by having a free public library across the street from my building, but I’ve come to realize by any measure of volume of media I can think of, we have more than we can do with it. The perspective that thousands of books has value devalues not just individual books, but the ability to enjoy oneself without any outside stimulation (outside of whatever environment you find yourself at any time).

We live in a world of so much media, the more relevant issue to me is not how much more we can get but how much less.

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