ebook vs paperA statement from Steve Davidson, owner/publisher at Amazing Stories, recently posted to Facebook:

“I wish to go on record to state that my recent physical encounter with physical books has absolutely in NO way diminished my love of physical books, nor has it diminished my loathing for so-called e-books in the least!

“We’re taught that the things you work hardest for are the things that you cherish the most, are the things that have the most import and meaning. This is true…and no less true for REAL books. When you’ve carried and sorted and lifted and twisted while holding what amounts to tons of paper in the aggregate, you may ask yourself – “why am I doing this?” After all, there is an easier way – just ditch the whole thing and buy the electronic version, store em in the cloud and get some space back in your hallway.

“But then you look at the titles…the author names…the artwork…and you remember where you where (sic), who you were with and what you were doing when you first started carrying it around and you realize how full of life, how full of stories beyond the story, each and every volume is, and you realize how soulless and meaningless a bunch of ones and zeroes stored on some server farm in Outer Outer Mongolia is and, suddenly, those books just don’t seem that heavy or awkward anymore.”

I don’t know if this post was written in response to an event, such as an avalanche of books falling upon Davidson while he was running an inventory, and a subsequent hospital stay… or possibly the act of moving, said process significantly complicated and made more expensive by the inclusion of an additional few truck-fulls of books and magazines.  And I’ll try to ignore the clear slight to those of us who not only appreciate, but prefer reading and writing in ebook formats.  No matter—my rebuttal, also posted to Facebook:

“It’s funny: I can look at those old books, and see rotting paper with dried and fading marks left by energy-wasting, environmentally-damaging printing presses and even less identifiable stains, beat up by smoke-belching trucks and rat-infested warehouses before ever reaching me, encouraging the build-up of paper-eating insects and mildew, breaking my back, breaking my shelves, taking up space my wife would just as soon see filled with colorful pictures, knick-knacks and sculptures from our travels…

“against a miracle of electronic storage and display, carrying the equivalent of a few-score boxes of books within it, in malleable formats easy to adjust to the eye, easy to search, easy to buy from wherever I am (if there’s a WiFi connection, anyway), easy to take my entire library to Outer Mongolia if I wish…

“and suddenly the point of all those paper books is completely lost to me. In fact, the only reason I keep them around is in the hope that I find an easy way to convert them to ebooks sometime in the near future.”

It’s always interesting amazing to me that people who espouse science fiction—which means by definition that they have an appreciation for science and the things it has wrought over the ages—seem to have an outright disdain, bordering on manic hatred, of books in digital formats.  (It’s also interesting amazing to me that SF fans, many of whom by extension do not ascribe to any religious views, nonetheless like to imbue books with souls.  Well, I suppose they could have souls—most likely the souls of the healthy living trees that were cut down to make them…)  But to condemn an entire format of books, and by extension, the novels that are available in that format, seems beyond the extreme to me.

ebook readerI can certainly understand an attachment to the trappings of personal pasts and traditions, which often include those tired old paperbacks that, at one time, may have seemed to be your only entertainment… maybe even your only true friends.  I have memories like that, too, and they include other geeky items, like models, toys, comic books and movie posters galore.

But my memories also include a constant and unwavering interest in science and technology, and the many ways in which they would enrich my life as they developed.  And in the same way I view the transition from black-and-white TV to color… the development of computers from room-sized goliaths to devices that fits into my pocket… and the creation of a communications network that allows me to share documents with friends on the opposite side of the planet… in the same way that I view all those things as a clear enrichment of life; so I see the creation of ebooks, and the ability to carry a flexible, searchable and ever-expandable library with me at all times, without having to do the damage to the environment that printing, hauling and storing physical books requires, as an enrichment of all of our lives, an undeniably good thing.

ebook reading habitsNow, if Davidson and others like him prefer printed books, value the memories made when hauling them around, and prefer potentially risking his health dealing with heavy, moldy fire-hazards, that’s clearly their prerogative, and I don’t begrudge them that.  (Mild shake of the head, a little eye-rolling, okay, but that’s it, I swear.)

But considering all the wonderful new fiction that is available to them, from sources they’d never have had access to before electronic media and internet communications became a thing—including, potentially, my own stories—and considering how most of them, especially Davidson, are taking advantage of that selfsame technology to gain themselves exposure and further their own ends—I’d certainly hate to think that they are purposely shunning all that technology-provided entertainment from their lives, and new potential memories to be made, based on a luddite attachment to an ancient and wasteful production and dissemination system that has been quite thoroughly surpassed by the wonders of the modern century in which they stand.

Because, when it comes down to it, it’s not the format; it’s the story that has value, however it’s packaged.