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Ebooks, battery life, and the humble stack of paper. An Historic 2006 Article on Books & Life Before Mobile Tablets Became a Thing

The ebook, or electronic book, has not quite caught on as a cool, mass consumer product largely because of the medium used to deliver it. Namely the computer. Even the smallest of laptop computers don't quite have the convenience of that humble stack of paper, glued or stitched down one side, more commonly referred to as a regular 'book'.

Regular books come in all shapes and sizes, the most convenient of which is known as the 'paperback'. Paperbacks are just the right size to read without straining the eyes and are just small enough to take up hardly any room in a bag, briefcase or maybe even a large coat pocket. Not with standing their use as 'brain food' their durability knows no bounds. They are still readable even after being used to prop up a wobbly table or having been thrown at an annoying colleague's head (not that this happens often but it happens).

Laptops have the annoying habit of being bulky and not very hard wearing at all. Even if your laptop computer is easy to get out on the bus there is still the issues of battery life and finding room to read standing because there are no seats left at rush hour. For those without laptops well, need I mention how non-portable the humble desktop computer is. Has power cord, doesn't travel more than a few feet.

Rumor has it that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, is banking that people will want to read ebooks on their next generation video ipods. This could make ebooks cool but seriously, even on an ipod with a larger screen size they're missing the point. You can't go too far away from a power source for too long with an ipod. Even with the one or two dedicated ebook readers that do exist you can bet your life the battery will be flat as you struggle to prioritize charging your mobile phone, laptop, ipod, psp or ebook reader.

An ebook can't emulate the satisfaction of completing a lengthy tome like 'War and Peace'. You know that book is heavy going - literally. You can see how much you've read and that you're making real progress if you're still reading a third of the way into it. There is no better feeling than the visual satisfaction of knowing you've read a book that thick from first to last page.

The problem with ebooks is, unlike music and film, words on paper is the one medium that isn't improved by being reproduced in digital format. Granted you can enhance the text with hyperlinks and search functions and even make parts interactive but once you do that...well...it's no longer a book really. It's more like a web site.

The book is the one form of communication that doesn't require any additional hardware to enjoy. You don't need to be shown how to make a book work and you don't need to remember a password to open it. A book isn't limited to one operating system. You can read a book any way you want, at any speed. You can skip words, pages or even start at the end. You can just look at the pictures or flip through the pages to get a general feel for what's inside.

Most importantly...books are affordable. Even if you don't buy new books there are hundreds of interesting books in second hand stores, garage sales and flea markets. Even the homeless can afford to read books. No power points required. No reader device needed.

It's simple and easy to understand how a book works and the content can be as simple or as complex as your tastes desire. Nothing is nearly quite so impressive as a collection of books in your own personal library. Books do not get more impressive when you can fit 50,000 of them onto a machine the size of a matchbox. Books hold fond memories for people. Many people describe their perfect day as settling down with a good book.

Perhaps I'm beginning to ramble but there is a reason why people don't read long tracts of text on a web site. Reading on a screen is not fun or easy on the eye. Screens require movement and colour to hold our attention. That's what we're accustomed to. Ebooks require you to look at a static screen for extended periods. Much longer than it takes to read a web site.

Clearly ebooks have quite a way to go before they catch on.

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