The death of the printed word

Laptops.  Netbooks.  Smartphones.  iPads.  eReaders.  As more and more people become familiar with these electronic devices and use them in their everyday life, they are realizing something profound:  anything that can be read on paper in a book, newspaper, or magazine, can be read on any of these portable electronic devices.  Does that mean that these older forms of print are going the way of the dodo? The issue is important to people, and there are arguments that can be made for continuing to print in paper forms despite the advantages of these new electronic devices that are taking their place.  Coming up on the holiday season, we’re seeing skyrocketing sales of Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, and the continued steady climb of laptops, smartphones, and other portable devices that can take the place of “ink-on-paper”.

SMC student and Anthropology major Tracy Brack is one person for whom printed books are still a necessity.  “When reading and studying, I need to be able to flip through the book in a way that I can’t with an electronic version of the book.”

Other reasons why we may continue to see ink-on-paper are the limitations of battery power, for example during a crisis when there is no power for electronic devices, or even in a less extreme situation like while camping.

Some people find that reading a book is more comfortable in bed, while others have problems with sunlight glare off the screens of their devices while trying to read outside.

While these are all legitimate concerns, it is clear that technology is quickly advancing to address every one of these problems.  Within the next few decades, traditional printed material will become a smaller and smaller percentage and finally bottom out.  There will always be a certain percentage of the world’s information that remains printed on paper, but we can expect to see that be a tiny fraction of an almost completely digital information age.

E-Readers like Amazon’s Kindle are designed for the sole purpose of replacing ink-on-paper print.  Using a technology they call “E-ink”, the Kindle overcomes many of the above-mentioned problems, because it’s designed to be a dedicated E-Reader that mimics all the advantages of normal ink-on-paper, yet still gives all the advantages of being digital.  Its battery usage is so tiny that it provides over two months of reading before needing to be recharged.  And it is so light and thin that it weighs as much as a magazine yet can hold the equivalent of hundreds of books worth of material.  The advantage is clear.

Of course some people will always be nostalgic for the “feel of a good book in your hand.” But then again, when cars first came out, some people lamented that everyone would miss the “clip-clop” of horse hooves.  People will always have some sentimental feelings of nostalgia for old-fashioned things, but in the end, that doesn’t stop technology from progressing.

So we don’t have to say goodbye to printed materials, but in the not-too-distant future, they will surely become more of a relic than a normal part of everyday life.