I’m still not sure I’ve picked a side on the whole e-reader debate. As a confirmed reading addict, I’ve purchased somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 books during 2012 so far. Most of those are physical paper books.
For the most part I enjoy reading books on paper, but they do come with inconveniences, packing them when traveling can be a challenge, and just one extra thing to carry. And of course they do add up when you buy 30 a year. Pretty soon there won’t be any room in my bedroom.
I have two major hesitations about ebooks. It’s hard for me to justify paying the $10+ sometimes needed to purchase a digital copy that costs nothing to manufacture when I can get the paperback brand new for $8. I don’t actually have a dedicated e-reader. I read on my iPad on my phone, and it’s great that the titles can be synced back and forth between devices, whichever one I happen to have with me can access the book.
But an even bigger problem that The Atlantic sheds light on is that you don’t really ever own an e-book. It’s not really yours, it can be taken back at any time. This makes the prospect of censorship seem like a particularly large spectre looming over the intellectual scene. Can the publisher really decide to take away the book if they decide they messed up somehow?
It’s an issue not limited to books, but spilling over into the realm of music as well. I particularly enjoy the ease of accessing almost any song on Spotify from anywhere I have access to the internet, but still sometimes I feel tempted to download a physical copy of the track just so it’s really “mine”. It’s funny because I don’t own a single compact disc, and so a “physical copy” to me really just means having a file somewhere that I can name and move and delete. It means adding it to the finite scope of my personal collection.
Perhaps that’s part of what ownership is in the digital era. Picking something out from among the unlimited variety of similar accessible things and putting it in your iTunes, on your Pinterest board, or your Facebook wall.