Have you ever picked up a book, the dust is jacket worn, the pages are about to crumble, and each of those pages saturated with a yellowish color from years of use? This was probably the experience you had with your first novel. Now picture the same kid, they open a black leather case and remove a silver Mac Powerbook, they slide it onto the table flip it open, and a bright white light illuminates their face as they look at the black and white text from the same novel. Yes, it is the same novel, but an entirely different experience.
The second rendition of the reader’s virtual experience is becoming more and more common as the great novels written throughout history “go digital”. The prominence of the digital lifestyle has been thwarted in the age of convenience that we live in today. We are always looking for easy access all the time. What would we do without our “crackberrys”? I myself am uncertain if I could go on if this lifeline was cut. It always seems easier to send a bbm than actually pick up the phone and talk to someone who is seemingly my friend. Hmm… Have I ever really talked to them, and are they my friend? This may be the same attitude that the next generations will take with literature. It may become as impersonal as a bbm, yet containing valuable words that have shaped our perceptions of the world throughout history.
The idea of transforming books into digital copies is gaining steam in both the academic and more importantly the corporate world. One such global corporate giant has decided to take advantage of the digital age, Google. In fact you can look up almost any piece of literature post 1940 and they will have a digital copy of the full text, scanned and ready for your viewing pleasure. They recently settled a 125 million dollar lawsuit with multiple publishers and authors who were fighting to retain their copyrights, and prevent Google from providing their library to the entire world over the internet for free. Sure, the writers are no rockstars, so we don’t exactly look at the infringement as relevant as piracy cases may be with the latest Rolling Stones record. Google is going to be able to provide the content, or at least a certain amount of the pages, such as the first twenty pages, and then offer viewers the option to “buy-it-now”. Google will then give the money to the publishers and authors of the original work, but not without wrapping their virtual arms around 37% percent of the profits. It appears they truly have mastered a way to make a profit from our reality as well as our virtual reality, and it shows in their massive profits and share price.
What remains to be discussed is the experience of reading itself. When we sit down and engage in a novel or other literary work we open our senses to experience every word on the page. We may move our hand differently as we read over a text and use our finger to hold our place, as we stop and look up to contemplate the meaning of the phrase. The parallels we draw in great novels, the images in poetry, and the meaning that we gain are taken not only from the words on the page, but also from the actual experience of reading them. Computers continue to govern our entire existence in the modern world. They are now taking over even the most enjoyable intellectual leisure activities, reading. If they have their way with us, we will never be able to take a book with us out into nature or to the beach, where the environment influences our perception of the literature. If computers continue to infiltrate our leisure experiences, it is a wonder if we will ever be free to do anything in our lives without them.
Well, we may as well introduce ourselves to the future of reading, and allow the bright white background and the pungent black text to burn through the back of our retinas. In fact reading a book digitally may put us in a similar state of hypnosis as watching television. In which case, we may as well let Google and the other Silicon Valley cronies that are sure to be on their coat tails, program us, take our money, and ensure we never again hold an original hardcover copy of any great novels written throughout history.