James Wolcott considers a world without books.
Now that I have an ipod touch, I find that I read on it all the time and with much greater ease than I do on an actual computer. Using Instapaper, I read more fiction-- and longer articles--from the internet than I ever did without it. The urge to skim is gone. I don't feel my attention being pulled to another browser tab. The fundamental difference is both unexpected and physical. It doesn't seem to be a matter of screen size so much as my ability to hold the device in my hand and twist and turn with it like it is an actual book. The architecture of the ipod itself helps too, the way it eschews multitasking. You can do a lot with this little guy but you can't do it all at once. Really, that's what I love about it.
Are readers the petty snobs Wolcott suggests we are? Probably yes and no, but I'm glad to see the e/book debate moving away from stark grandiosity and into the tangible and banal. That's ultimately where it will reside for each reader, isn't it? Once the novelty and fear of e-books have worn off these decisions won't be so freighted and we'll all make them in private moments for reasons under no obligation to be articulated--or even articulable. As a prognosticator and a librarian, my sense is that this will make for a messy and uneven reality of practice, in which both technologies more or less coexist without incident or even much heady symbolism. But what do I know? They say people always overestimate the impact of a technology in its early period and underestimate it by the time it has managed full adoption.
ps-hey, guess what? A and I just moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where, as of next week, I'll be the English librarian at a university here. Seems like a good town. People sit on their front porches and the pizza is surprisingly good. Come visit when you can.