Libraries are dying and so too are the reams of paper and collage of words that populate them. But this is no modern-day Bonfire of the Vanities – after all, everybody knows that libraries are dying because they’ve read about it. However, in the place of the antiquated villains of ignorance or illiteracy, libraries are being threatened by another foe: the digital evolution of pretty much everything.
Primary suspect in the downfall of the book domicile is the Internet – the vast intangible library of the world. The Dewy Decimal system has largely been replaced by Googling. And the Internet’s chaperone, mobile technology, has, been enlisted to deal the fatal blow. Even up against a design that has been perfected since the burgeoning of civilization, technology – in the form of the tablet and the eBook – has effortlessly conspired to engineer a dramatic fall for traditional printed parchment. The book is running scared.
US online retailer Amazon has already crowed about the Kindle-powered sale of eBooks overtaking its leather-jacketed counterpart. Amazon reportedly sold 105 soft copies for every 100 old-fashioned book last year. Hardback sales have been the worst hit, no longer able to sate the lust of a crowd with a penchant for something small and mobile. But can there be such an advantage in taking reading digital, especially when the outlay of an iPad is massively in excess of the librarian’s favourite?
The latest iteration of Apple’s entertainment slab rocks a pin-sharp 2048 x 1536 high definition resolution, a dual-core A5X processor with quad-core graphics capabilities and a camera able to take detailed and vivid photographs in an instant. The internal memory has ample room to house the Library of Alexendria and has space left over for that album of lyrical genius by Tinchy Stryder which bookworms are always talking about.
Moreover, the iPad has an in-built dictionary, the orientation of the page can slink sideways without the effort of reprinting and the typeface and size can be altered in seconds.
The novel can do none of these. Instead, it has pages. They are made of paper.
And yet the iPad falters. Its technological wizardry is undermined by its inability to deflect sun glare (even in the chronically cloudy UK) and the screen has been known to cause serious strain to the eyes because of the vivid backlit screen it employs. Hence the Kindle: Amazon’s sleek eReader.
The Kindle boasts an E Ink display capable of producing legible text, even if you happen to be sunbathing on Venus. Yes, the Kindle isn’t going to flash hypnotic high definition films at you or force you to leer at its voluptuous graphics, or ogle at its high-res photographs, but you can read a good book on it comfortably and slot it, and the thousands of titles you can store on it, neatly into a rucksack.
But whether it’s the fun of the iPad or the practicality of the Kindle which appeals, both are still let down by the battery. The new iPad’s battery power clocks in around the 10 hour mark with W-iFi active (a respectable time for a multitasking mobile device with a bright 10.1-inch display). Meanwhile, a Kindle eReader can last approximately 3-6 weeks on a full charge (again with active Wi-Fi). A book, however, can last as long as the pages are bound together. Plus, there’s no need to recharge a book, in fact, it doesn’t even take batteries. And there’s no need to turn it off or on or put it on standby. Ever.
Even without USB inputs, books still have their plus points; but storytelling is slowly succumbing to the encroachment of mobile technology – so much so that the younger generation now swipe and pinch at magazines. Modern authors are branching out, offering a cross-platform experience, compelled to offer interactivity, images and video to their readers in order to compete.
Perhaps, traditionalists and book-lovers will always find solace in the smell and touch of paper and ink; but the iPad and its tablet brethren are ushering in a future where going to the library will involve nothing more than a tap of the forefinger.