I recently let Apple try to explain to me why their e-books are A Good Thing and not An Awful Thing. I've seen these iPads. They look fancy. I mean, I would have no actual use for one, but they're really shiny. The adverts show all kinds of wonders. Listening to a magazine. Watching a newspaper. And, I don't know, eating a book? When you download one it goes onto a virtual bookshelf. Which is nice. It almost looks like a real bookshelf. But then you open one up, and this is where it all goes wrong for me. Apple boast about the advantages over paper. You can change the font and text size. Highlight hard words to look them up in a dictionary. Go straight to the page you were last on, because the machine remembered it for you. But I don't want to customise books. I don't want to change them. A book is a solid thing that has been designed and produced and exists in the world as an object. It can't be changed. Books don't have to loaded. They don't run out of batteries. In telling us that an e-book is just like a real-book, they've forgotten the most important thing. A piece of data in a machine is not really there. You can't hold it. You can't keep it. I bet it doesn't even smell of anything.
There is a possiblity I am being grumpy. This is, obviously, what happened to music. People who bought records can now scroll through iTunes. And in some ways, it's better. Having all your music two clicks away. That's good. I download music, but I've noticed a difference. If I really like an album, I'll buy it on CD. So I can have it. The downloads mean less to me. It doesn't feel right spending the same amount of money for information on a screen. If I downloaded a book, it would be because I didn't really want it.