The Future is a Foreign Country

The Wonder Book of SoldiersDespite being something of a technophile, there are two ‘essential’ gadgets that I have never really got the hang of – the mobile phone and the electronic book.

I rebel against the mobile for the autocratic demands it makes on our lives. There is just no escape from the rest of the world when your attention is constantly distracted by calls, texts, emails and automated reminders.

This particular technophobia goes back to my NHS days when I was forced to carry a Blackberry, a separate Nokia out-of-hours emergency phone and an old-fashioned bleeper just for good measure.

(In the event of a really major emergency, the mobile phone network crashes under the pressure of demand, but bleepers keep on working. How you’re supposed to respond is another matter entirely…)

I became a slave to the technology as the damned things would go off at all hours of the day, demanding an instant response to each and every major and minor problem, mostly minor. The problem is that instant responses tend to be the wrong ones.

You can tell that the resentment lingers because I hadn’t intended that mobile phones should be the subject of today’s little homily. I was supposed to writing about electronic books.

I bought Mrs P a Kindle two Christmases ago and despite her reservations she absolutely loves it. She is an avid reader, getting through three or four books a week and Ebbie (as she named her Kindle) is perfect for her. But I haven’t quite taken to the idea.

Admittedly I don’t have a Kindle, but I have tried the app on my iPad and persevered with a title or two and yet it simply doesn’t feel right. For me reading is a tactile experience – the touch of the paper, the smell of the ink, the patterns of the typography – that the electronic alternative just cannot deliver.

And where will today’s books be in a hundred years time if they have been read and deleted from a billion electronic books?

This question came to me when I picked up The Wonder Book of Soldiers for a pound from a local charity shop. This story of World War I must have once been a popular title as this was the sixth edition published within a year of the end of hostilities.

It was written for boys and girls (no gender stereotyping then) and so has lots of illustrations, but it is written well and in detail, and with relatively little jingoism that you might expect for its time.

My point is, would this little gem have survived if electronic books had existed then, or would it have been consigned to the virtual rubbish bin? And as I asked above, what will become of today’s examples of social history in book form? Or will our future selves simply close the door on the past?

Perhaps willful forgetting will be the way of things. I’m just glad I won’t be around to experience it.

Just to undermine my own argument, you can download The Wonder Book of Soldiers at Electronic Scotland.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

10 comments… Add yours
  • Luddite Pudding 14th May 2013

    Just this morning on Radio 4, the Chief Rabbi spoke of the “now” generation where mobile technology is obsessed with the here and now – not the past or the future but today. Even though I have written an e-book (“The Headland”) I am, like you, so used to paper books that I doubt I could ever switch. I like to feel and see the thickness* of what I have read so far and I like to flick ahead to see how many pages there are to the end of the current chapter.
    (* Please don’t imagine I am drawn to “thick” authors like Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer!)

    • Mr Parrot 14th May 2013

      I wouldn’t dream of making such a slur! I know exactly what you mean about visualising the ‘thickness’ of the pages left to read.

  • rhymeswithplague 14th May 2013

    Like Luddite, I also check to see how many pages there are to the end of the current chapter when I’m about to start a new one. I do this so that I can decide whether to read another chapter before putting the book down for the time being.

    There’s almost nothing better than to return to a book one is reading.

    • Mr Parrot 14th May 2013

      It’s quite reassuring to realise that I’m not alone Trevor.

      • rhymeswithplague 14th May 2013

        My name isn’t Trevor, Ian, although my name spelled backward is almost Trevor.

        Trebor Eugarb, that’s me.

        • Mr Parrot 16th May 2013

          My mistake! You have reminded me of a brand of sweets in the UK called Trebor Mints where the maker’s name was spelt backwards.

  • Roger Green 14th May 2013

    No reader for me. I have enough print books unread until I die, and if I SHOULD need more, that’s why God created the library.

    • Mr Parrot 14th May 2013

      I know exactly what you mean Roger. In the past couple of weeks I’ve added In the Shadow of the Sword, Hiding the Elephant and The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty to my ever growing pile of books I really must get round to reading!

  • Richie 17th May 2013

    I too have feelings for books. I love to own and collect them. Although it is quite possible that e-readers will make printed books either rare or obsolete, I still like my Kindle because it allows me to access books I would not be able too otherwise. In the long run e-readers are actually going to make old literature much more accessible.

    An Arkies Musings

  • Elizabeth 19th May 2013

    I’m with you, Ian. I love the weightiness, smell and, sorry to admit it, but the way that I can bend back the spine and turn down the corners of a real book. Nothing will ever compete with real paper bindings for many people and there is going to be a growing divide between those who love their kindles and those who don’t. Mobiles phones, sadly, are not so easily dealt with – those of us who loathe them will always be in the minority, I fear.


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