The only thing I don’t like about Craig Mod’s Will digital books ever replace print? in Aeon is the fact that I didn’t write it. Mod read everything on a screen from 2009—13, but then returned to print.
One of the interesting themes is trust, which you wouldn’t expect in a piece about books:
When we buy a physical book, we can do with it what we want – cut up the pages, burn it for warmth, give it to friends, and so on. Because the contract of ownership between reader and object is implicit, not dependent on any third party, the physical book also becomes a true souvenir of the reading experience. One that can’t be revoked because of broken or neglected software. In effect, a longterm trust is embedded in the nature of a physical book.
But, where we can continue to rely on the physical object of a book, the same can’t be said for ebooks, whose platforms are closed, and at times capricious:
Individually, these niggles might seem small and inconsequential, but over time they gnaw, erode trust, and perhaps inspire one to move back to print. Back to an ecosystem that’s old but fully formed, chock-full of reliability and delight. In contrast, our digital book ecosystems feel stillborn. Certainly not like the same fresh, potent universes they did five or six years ago when the Kindle was nascent and the iPad had just been announced. As our hardware has grown more powerful and our screens more capable, our book-reading software has largely stagnated. Many of the typographic and user experience gripes I had during my four years of peak Kindle usage remain to this day.
In other words, digital books and the ecosystem in which they live are software, and software feels most alive and trustworthy when it is actively evolving with the best interests of users in mind.
Even though I’ve been reading ebooks exclusively for the last four or five years, this has me considering a return to print.