E-books revolutionize culture

The forward march of societal progress is bound to meet with some dissent, particularly where technology is concerned.

The sudden surge in the prevalence of e-books is no exception. Young and old alike have found fault with the burgeoning literary medium, lamenting the loss of intimacy granted by the tangible form, the growing presence of electronic devices in the classroom and the disappearance of big-box booksellers like Borders and neighborhood bookshops alike that have recognized their time is up and bowed out of the business.

In our panic, it seems we have forgotten that e-books, while fundamentally different, are not fundamentally bad. On the contrary, they represent a positive cultural evolution, a necessary adaptation to the rapidly changing needs of 21st-century life.

It’s as if we’ve been given wings, and one particularly vocal segment of the population is too afraid to fly. Thus, they remain on the ground with resources growing scarce, while the rest of us delve eagerly into the new land of plenty — plentiful reading, that is.

Already, we live in a society where the world is at our fingertips. Music, photos and reference materials are all readily accessible, while instantaneously contacting anyone with whom we’ve ever networked can be achieved in a single well-spent minute on the Internet.

As USC students, we’re almost expected to have some sort of electronic database on our person at all times. For instance, it’s not out of the ordinary for a professor to request that a student look up the dictionary definition of a word on his or her smartphone while in class.

To have e-books become equally commonplace is to complete the long overdue task of bringing literature up to speed with the rest of the world. Their efficiency and convenience is undeniable. Suddenly an entire library can be contained with a pocket-size device that weighs less than one paperback book and can be whipped out on the subway, during a coffee break or in line at the bank.

In an age where technology threatens to permanently distract people from literature altogether, the value of a piece of technology that could actually integrate reading into tech-dependent lifestyles cannot be ignored. This applies to cost as well, as e-books have made reading more affordable in some cases — though the price of the e-readers themselves often provide a significant barrier for many would-be users. Digital content is infinitely cheaper to produce than traditional books, as well as cheaper to store, market and distribute. This has proven particularly beneficial for college students, for whom the daunting cost of textbooks is just one of many financial burdens.

E-books also offer multiple features that enhance the reading experience itself, such as search functions and direct links to dictionaries and other reference material. Readers of e-books have the benefit of immediately available resources should they come across an unfamiliar Spanish phrase in work, or the need to hunt down a particular quote in a mammoth-size novel like War and Peace.

Meanwhile, many of the legitimate complaints raised by e-books are only temporary issues that can be easily resolved in the near future. Annotation difficulties are an example of one such lingering problem, but manufacturers of wireless reading devices have already designed applications for note-taking. Refinement of these kinds of applications will happen naturally as e-books become more widely used.

The lack of an effective lending system is another commonly cited issue. But again, libraries worldwide are already taking steps to digitize their collections. Once the transition is completed on a larger scale, the burden on libraries will be eased enormously. No longer will they have to worry about the upkeep of massive collections of bulky, decaying material.

E-books will also prevent the further production of more of this material, saving countless numbers of trees and doing our environment a huge favor at a time when it can use all the help it can get.

True, e-books can be hard to stomach for millions of die-hard bibliophiles, but they, nonetheless, remain the logical, efficient and cost-effective successor to their physical counterparts.

People complained when computers phased out typewriters, too. You would have to search far and wide, however, to find a person who takes issue with today’s word processing software. The transition will take getting used to, as does any significant cultural shift.

In the meantime, it’s not as if books are being burned. In fact, the opposite is occurring: Books are being reinvigorated, given a new chance to take hold in a society that once threatened to no longer have room for them.