Monday, October 10, 2011

Cold, Dead Fingers Dept

Much ink has been wasted on whether music as a predominantly digital format has cost us something precious, and wonderful, and irreplaceable, and why can't I stop crying &c. There have probably been losses and gains. No song ever need vanish from the catalogue, no treasure need be buried unheard, deleted. Physical formats become fun and worthwhile when produced, rather than drably essential. There need never be another CD released with a single page in the jewel case, another exercise in "why did we bother".

Sure, there's too much music to ever listen to it all, but that's like having too much dinner and remembering with a warm glow the cold hard certainty of rationing. I miss the excitement of the record shop, but not the excitement of discovering something new.

But I don't feel the same way about ebooks. I hate them. I genuinely hate them. With music, your relationship is predominantly with what is going in your ear. Yes, you may stare at the cover for Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes for half an hour while going on a prog journey, but that really is making your own fun at its most innocent, deny that if you like.

The relationship with a book is very different. It's a tactile object relatively unchanged since the Gutenberg press. You've got to hold that thing in front of your face. It's your buddy until you're done with it. A well-thumbed, much read book is like a vile, beloved, drooled on childhood bunny, but you wouldn't buy one of those second-hand unless you had a lot of problems in your life.

Now I sell ebooks, of course I do, because people want them, and while I am sentimental, I am not mental. And I can shove in 50 extra pages that I found down the back of the sofa because it costs very little to do so. Did I think those pages were worth publishing the first time? No. There's something wrong at the heart of that, like the height of the CD era, when filling the disc to the full 74 minutes became paramount. Bloat over art.

I've seen examples of the beautiful work being done in interactive ebooks for children. They depress me. Kids are in a world of their own and we seek ever more to make concrete things that would have lived in their imagination. Any graphic work is dead on screen compared to how it looks on paper.

This is the first time I've felt like this. I love digital media. They free us from clutter, from waste. But I don't think we have to be beholden to gadget manufacturers on books. I don't think we need to enter the dismal Kindle's annual upgrade curve. Books aren't a delivery medium, they're an art form. We forget that at our peril.