The virtual shelf

Being humans, we often have an instinctual tendency to attach emotional significance on to certain objects. Like the death of vinyl, the foreseen death of the printed book has revived these feelings once again. Unable to let go of the past, many consumers have begun collecting vinyls as a way of holding on to their distant memories. 

Is there a problem with this? Not at all. If anything we should celebrate our Homosapien ability to store and re-live memories. On the other hand, we should also utilise our ability to adapt, by embracing the rapidly evolving technology that we have created.

Before researching the Ebook phenomenon, I found myself feeling overtly protective over its archaic predecessor; The printed book. I wondered to myself, why do i feel such a strong connection to these inanimate objects? Firstly, I believe that books have the unique ability to absorb and reflect their historical journeys. Passing between different hands, the materiality of the printed book cannot escape the risk of imperfections and blemishes, that ultimately make it so unique. Turning a page that has been touched by thousands of others, gives us an astounding connection to the past. Unfortunately the ‘E-book’ will no longer be able to forge this connection.

From zero to hero, Ebooks now represent a staggering $969.9 million (USD) of US sales, grasping 16.55% of the total sales of books. Although they are substantially linked to the decreasing sales of printed books and bookstore closures, how have they benefited humankind?


1. Environmental Impacts: Unfortunately, the printed book has many ecological downsides. Relying heavily on trees for its source, the paper industry has reportedly reduced the primary forest area globally by 60,000 square kilometres per year! Unlike an ebook, we must throw away, discard ,donate or even burn a book once we have read it. With about 28 % of US wood being used for paper production, could the new Ebook be an Ecosaviour? Could we radically reduce the amount of trees sacrificed for the use of paper production? (approx 1.6 billion)

2. Size and Weight: With an Ebook reader; such as an Ipad, weighing only 652 g, it becomes a far superior option to a heavy book.  This is very helpful, when a university student such as myself, has to lug around many of these back-breaking books. Interestingly, a recent study also discovered that an ‘E-book gets heavier as it downloads more titles’. Although, this weight is so small, that it is insignificant in the greater scheme of things. The slimline features of most Ebooks, also make them easier to carry then their bulky paperback counterparts.

3. Cost: Although an Ebook Reader can be relatively pricey, the price of an individual Ebook is remarkably cheaper then a paperback book. Overtime, one would be able to save the money they had originally spent on the reader, by purchasing the cheaper ebook option. Most Ebook readers also have other capabilities, such as cameras, access to the internet and email. By combining these features onto one device, you would also be able to save money in other areas.

4. Accessibility: Lying in bed, on a late friday night with nothing to do, I impulsively download an ebook off Amazon. This capability consequently allows users to make impulsive buys from the comfort of their own home. Without this instant accessibility, many would have rethought their purchases and decided not to buy them. Others may also not have had enough time or even be to lazy to buy their purchases from a local bookstore. With Research suggesting that more people are now reading books, Could Ebooks be a more positive force then i had initally anticipated?

Seemingly glorifying Ebook technology, i have failed to highlight, that like most things, Ebooks also have some downsides.


1. The materiality of touching a book, is a truly satisfying feeling. Conquering each page as you read, you become determined to finish it. An ebook doesn’t guarantee this same satisfaction. One can no longer proudly slam down the heavy book, and rapture in its completion.

2. Staring at a bright screen for days on end can often stress or damage a readers eyes.

3. An Ebook reader also has a higher risk of being stolen or even lost.

4. The light weight nature of the ebook reader also means that it isn’t as durable as a book. This means that it is more susceptible to damage, or system failures.

(All Images are royalty free and courtesy of wikimedia commons)


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