Swimming mainstream

Some technologies and products take longer than others to become culturally mainstream. The printed book was adopted extremely quickly by European litterati because it made sense and it was extremely useful. Some scribes tried to defend the manuscript book against the new technology, but everyone eventually understood that print would benefit all in the end. And they were right.

While printed books became mainstream in a previously manuscript culture, sidestreams developed. Calligraphy achieved the status of art. Painting left the manuscript page and set itself up on canvases and walls.

E-books, on the other hand, aren’t becoming mainstream. Their value is marginally higher than physical books, and the reasons why one should buy a Kindle instead of a paperback fail to convince most of us who still swear by paper rather than pixel.

Almost everyone knows about e-books and most of us have experienced reading an electronic book. And yet, adoption is slow. That may be because books and e-books are not just about the cognitive act of reading. We like to shop for books, collect books, display books, give books and remember books. E-books aren’t good for any of these things. Kindle or Apple’s Books may display your purchased books more neatly than your IKEA shelves ever could, but there’s no-one, except yourself, to see them. And you’re not really going back to any of those books in the same way you’d pick up an old book from your shelf one evening just like that. Sharing an e-book file with someone rather than offering a signed hardback is not likely to endear us either.

Every year, the e-book industry is digging canals into the main stream. But it may be a while before it opens a passageway into the dominant culture. In the meantime, continue to pick up a book in the literal sense.

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