What I Miss from Paper and What I Want from Ebooks by Bob Sprankle

I was reflecting on my reading habits recently, and I realized that I've been reading entirely with ebooks for about 9 months without touching paper. I love having a dozen or so books on my iPad with me at all times. I love that I can bookmark, highlight, insert notes and reflections. I love that I can "zoom" in on pictures and text (especially as my vision gets weaker with age). I love that I can SEARCH the etext (can't do that with a regular book)! I love that I can read by the glow of my iPad at night without waking my wife with my reading lamp. I love that I can see what other (Kindle) readers have highlighted and I even love that I can go and look at all of my own highlights and notes on the web. Ebooks are GREAT! However... there are things I miss from paper books, and things that I still want from ebooks that have yet to come to fruition. First, the things I personally miss (and perhaps things that are a loss to all of us as we move away from paper):

  • the smell of books (okay, I might be alone in this, but I really do love the smell of books.)
  • the feel, the weight of books.
  • being able to tell how far along I am in a book. This is extremely hard to do ---at least for me--- when I see a percentage at the bottom of the screen of my progress, or that I am on page 201 out of 2230; this bothers me so much that whenever I can, I check in with the book I'm "e-reading" at the library or a bookstore just so I can see exactly how big the book is and get a visual on my progress.
  • when I read my ebook in public, no one has any idea of what I'm reading. This may sound vain, but I really see it as a great loss. Gone are the days when another reader comes up to me in a café because he/she has seen the book I'm reading and wants to connect over that book (or vise versa with me approaching other readers). I now read in public in secrecy.
  • lending books, while "possible" requires planning, compatible operating systems, and time-constraints. Also, I can't give away ebooks after I'm done with them.
  • my bookshelf seems to have suffered an untimely death, with no new books coming in to accompany or replace the old books. I've got more space in the house, for sure, but gone are the days when a friend, or my wife, or my daughter can peruse my library and find something of interest that is new.
  • and, the darkest and most painful loss is the loss of bookstores. In reading ebooks I can make my purchasing decisions without ever speaking to another human. Dwindling are the conversations that happen in bookstores when folks talk to the booksellers or have a chance meeting with someone else in the "Self Help" section.

Now for a list of things that I still expect from ebooks (especially to soften the loss of actual books):

  • MUCH, MUCH more social networking. Okay, I can see how many people have highlighted certain passages from the Kindle books that I'm reading, but where is the connection part with this shared knowledge? For instance, why have so many people highlighted the same passage? Why can't each reader also share their reasoning for highlights, their notes, their reflections? Think Kindle meets Facebook. I believe that this is coming, but why isn't it already happening? If you think of the "Long Tail," it is not only possible that there are thousands upon thousands of readers who are engaged in the same book as I am, but it is possible that there are even readers reading the exact page that I am currently on! Why can't I connect with those folks? We're completely invisible to each other, when we have technology already in existence that would make it possible for connection.
  • Speaking of connection, why can't I have the "people" experience when purchasing books? I mentioned this above as a loss, but again, while not as good as true "face to face," technology could make personal interaction possible. For example, go search a book on Amazon.com. Look at the page. Yes, we have the wonderful benefit of other readers' reviews, but there's so much more that's currently invisible. While you're at a particular page at Amazon, do you think that you're the only one viewing that page at that time? There are probably thousands of others viewing that very same page at the exact time that you're viewing it! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the option of interacting with those other readers/shoppers? As I wrote the first draft of this post, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit Virginia and was felt throughout the upper eastern coast. Immediately, my Facebook and Twitter "friends" came together to discuss, post, question, and share information about it. Why can't we do this when we experience "literary earthquakes" while reading? Lovers of books want to connect. We want to share our discoveries and our experiences. We join book groups to do this ---both in the "physical world" and "virtually" such as with online forums. Though reading is in part a solitary endeavor, together we make up audiences of varying sizes (depending on the book). Let's make reading more participatory without people having to leave the book.
  • At the very least, ebooks need to mirror the experience of the web in the sense that I can "link out" to other books or experiences from within the book. Ebooks are definitely moving in this direction, but truly seamless and integrated experiences with other media is still in the process of being realized. New literature has the benefit of expanding the new frontiers of what an ebook's potential can be, but at some point I believe we'll want to go back and "hook up" previously published books with the same "multi-media" possibilities. Perhaps software will be able to do this grunt work, or a Wikipedia-type collective effort will take care of this.
  • And finally, where is the "bonus-disc" material with ebooks? Just as DVDs are being issued with out-takes, interviews, extended/alternate versions, etc, ebooks could easily be complimented with extras.

The possibilities and the identities of ebooks are still being realized and I doubt we're even close to understanding their full potentials. The above is my "short list" of what I expect from ebooks now as well as what I bemoan the loss of with my increasing dependence on electronic texts.

What will you miss from paper books as ebooks become more dominant? What are your dreams for ebooks?

Thanks for sharing!