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The Gauntlet

The evolution of the written word

Can e-books replace hundreds of years of printed tradition?

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There's something wonderful about a book.

When you hold a book by Plato or by Shakespeare, it's like holding their thoughts in your hand. You can touch the pages and maybe, just maybe, feel like you're somehow connected to them. Or maybe it's a novel by your favourite author. The pages are dog-eared, notes run along the margins and water spots decorate the pages from bath time.

Is that something an e-book can replicate? Probably not. I'm not saying e-books, or technology in general, is wrong. An e-book is better than lugging those huge biology textbooks around. But consider this a heads-up on how books could change.

The Internet, e-mail and cell phones caught some people off guard. Suddenly no one writes letters or stays home. It's a revolution that society is still adjusting to, and in this crazy techno-gadget world, there's some primitive joy in receiving a letter or a phone call instead of an e-mail. This could happen to books. They would no longer be treated as wondrous but just as pure information--stuff that must be digested and used in the daily grind of life.

It's also an expensive start-up. One has to purchase the reader and then the e-books. Luckily, the programs to read the books are free and available for download. Now a real book can cost more money, but it's yours forever. It doesn't need batteries and you can take it anywhere and not worry about banging it around or dropping it. And somehow a real book given as a gift with a little note inside always has more meaning than a gift certificate for an e-book.

Also, the electronic publishing company has plenty of catching up to do. After scanning the available e-books, it's easy to see there isn't many Canadian authors. Granted, it's a United States-based endeavour right now, but enter any bookstore and there's a CanLit section. As well, I highly doubt there will ever be used e-books. Sitting in front of your computer in pyjamas isn't the same as entering a used bookstore that teems with undiscovered treasure. Books constantly cycle through and it's much more exciting when you find a book instead of using an internet search engine.

Some might argue that e-books would always be readable since computers really don't decay like books do. For example, The Domesday Book, a catalogue of all British possessions, was transferred onto computer disks back in the '80s. As great as that plan was, the disks are now unreadable by any computer. And the book? The original copy of the Domesday Book is 917 years old and still very readable.

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