The End column, the Australian Industry Standard
Issue 10, 25 September 2000
by Neale Morison
"I don't get it."
"What doesn't he get now?"
"Be fair, hear him out, what don't you get?"
"E-books. I mean why bother?"
"So we should just read books on paper?"
"Or read them on a computer screen, they're just text, but why e-books? I mean why come up with a new name for an old thing and then not realise that's what you've done and develop a new technology for the new name only you're just rehashing old technology. Why bother?"
"Has he tried it?"
"You're such a geek."
"Maybe he's open-minded."
"He's a lapsed geek who doesn't deserve the name. Because e-books are not geekworthy, they're consumer-fodder for the Readers Digest crowd."
"Maybe e-books are the publishing industry coming to terms with the information age."
"What information age? Trust me, it's the computer industry trying to take over the publishing industry, it's Amazon and Barnes and Noble trying to cut out distribution costs, it's Microsoft trying to pick the next big thing and they haven't got a clue."
"So you tried it, how was it?"
"It's silly. I mean it's just PDF, which I also don't get."
"PDF is a no-brainer, it's a file that behaves just like a paper document, but you can distribute it electronically and it's impossible to read."
"Maybe just a little more difficult to read."
"Eleven times more difficult to read."
"But I mean why bother?"
"Cut photocopying costs, maybe? Isn't it the paperless office?"
"It's almost too easy. It's one-way, it's handing down the tablets from the mountain, it's a document set in stone that cannot be changed. It doesn't matter if you can't read it, it's like legal small print, it's only for purposes of future blame-shifting, so companies can just keep on doing what they've always done. It's cyberbullying."
"I mean there was this great bit of advice in one of the e-book reader manuals, it said turn your notebook screen on its side for better resolution. Because books are in portrait and laptop screens are in landscape. So you're on the plane with your notebook and you're holding it open like the pages of a book.
'Excuse me, son, I couldn't help noticing, mostly I see people holding computers around the other way, what's that you're doing there, are you trying to shake something out?'
'Oh, no, I'm reading an e-book, sir, this is how you do it.'
'Well, son, you look like a real idiot.'
I mean it wouldn't occur to them to publish the books so they fit on your monitor. And what dork is going to carry a specialised e-book reader? Along with his palmtop and his laptop and his WAP phone and his international currency calculator AM/FM radio watch with four hundred microscopic buttons and his Swiss-army knife. We have books and we have computers, why pretend we have a new thing?"
"How can you ask that? This has been happening for hundreds of years. Thousands of years. Millions of years."
"It's just everything is old is new again again."
"Trust me, it came out of a marketing meeting. It's just putting an e in front of something and thinking you've had an idea. "
"Isn't it cybersex?"
"There's e-sex too."
"He's just making it up. There is no e-sex."
"No, I think maybe I saw something."
"He makes the claim he has to defend it. Difference between e-sex and cybersex? He's thinking fast."
"e-sex is the business, cybersex is the act."
"Sounds reasonable, I'll buy that."
"Then there's electro-sex. Orgasm via low-voltage stimulation of the organs. Available from e-sex vendors. Said to be better than sex."
"Now he's going to tell us e-books are better than books."
"Definitely not. Much much worse. Empty, unfulfilling, they leave you hollow, drained."
"But what about electro-books?"
"I believe him."
"That e-books are worse?"
"No, be fair, about e-sex."
"Trust me, the electro-sex was just corroborative detail, it's an old trick."
"No, it's true because all you have to do to create an Internet phenomenon is think of it. If anyone has ever thought of something it's already there. And anything we think of, someone else has already had a marketing meeting, so it already exists. Or at least the domain name is registered."
"I get it. Is that Daoist?"