Friday, October 16, 2009

Where's the remote for my book?

Should books come with a remote control that makes them beep when you are looking for them, like a cordless phone?

How about an in-book device that looks up words you don't understand or displays reviews and discussion about what you are reading?

These thoughts are provoked by the Oct. 14, 2009 edition of Room for Debate, a New York Times online feature on the topic "Does the Brain Like E-Books?"

David Gelernter suggests that these or similar tasks "would all be easily handled by electronics worked into the binding." Even if the circuitry breaks or the battery runs out, he notes, "I've still got a book."

This is not to attack e-books, Kindle, or any device yet to be invented, as the lawyers say. The more media that promote reading, the better -- even if, like the Kindle, they are not officially available in Canada, where I live. But it does highlight the adaptability of the seemingly simple but actually highly refined technology of the book.

Sandra Aamodt, another participant in the debate, says the usefulness of a computer for serious reading depends largely on "the user's strength of character." By this she means the reader's ability to avoid distractions such as checking email or a favourite blog.

I like her argument. It suggests that I am a character of great strength, sternly avoiding distractions every day as I read my books.

Not that Kindle users are bad people.

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