Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Paper vs. Plastic, eBooks revisited

I love my Kindle. Despite it's usability issues, Android operating system (Que Horror!), and all the other bits people complain about, I enjoy carrying around the Kindle Fire much more than I would have lugging around the Steve Jobs Biography or any other number of books. It's the right size, and much easier to read on than my iPad. It works for me(1) That said, there is one small problem with eBooks, be they on the Kindle, Nook, or reader of your choice.

Bits don't stick.

I'm hardly nostalgic, but the physical manifestation of a book is a powerful mnemonic. Like a greeting card from your past to future self, the good ones mean something to you. This can take several forms.

Today, I decided to re-read Alan Cooper's classic "The Inmates are Running the Asylum." I pulled the dead-tree-version from the shelf, dusted it off, and flipped it open.  On the second page of Inmates,  I found lovely note from the person who gave it to me. I had remembered it was a gift, but seeing the inscription there, in the person's handwriting, was a lovely experience.

The person who gave it to me was a prior VP of Operating Systems at Apple, and later the co-inventor of WebOS. Yet none of those make his inscription valuable to me, what was valuable was that he took the time to do it at all. This was not a book signing, he's a friend who wrote something memorable and meaninful.

Thankfully, when Inmates was published he couldn't "gift it" too me on Amazon

When I left Health Hero/Bosch last year, I gave everyone on my team books I felt were fitting for that person and their current career path or professional interest (2), but looking back, I wish I spent time writing in the books, rather than cards, as a more permanent reminder and thank you.

I dug around my shelf and noticed that almost every book I've kept was either personally signed, like Inmates, or stretched my mind at the time that it had signficant impact on how I've worked, led, and behaved (3). Clearly, these books made it through a lot of years of purging, donating, and generally clearing-house, yet here they are, and I'm unable to part with them.

So I wonder, emotionally, mentally, when there are no physical constraints on my ability to posses these books as bits, and no emotional tie, with they be as valuable to me? Will I be as connected to the words and ideas? How will consuming e-Books change the ways future generations attach value to the long-form written word? As an early adopter, technologist, and human (mostly), I'm fascinated by this topic, and it's potential cognitive effects.

(1) well, except for the horrible spiral-round-about-selection-UI that's so terrible, I can't even come up with a phrase to describe it.

(2) Rework was one I gave to a lot of people who were part of the acqusition. I think you can do the math.

(3) Some quick, but non-exhaustive examples:  Inmates and Rework, Don Norman's "The Invisible Computer" and "Things That Make Us Smart", Neil Gershenfeld's "When Things Start to Think" (the cover with the shoe, not the new horrible cover), Gary Vaynerchuck's  "Crush It!" and  David Beckham's autobiography. Okay, that's a joke, just wanted to see if you really read the footnotes.