Just recently, many of the roofs of the houses near where I live have suddenly seem to have become covered with solar panels – I think they are trying to beat the drop in subsidy. Lots of people are grumbling about them, saying they make the houses look ugly. I bet they were saying the same thing when satellite dishes suddenly started sprouting from the same houses at the end of the eighties. But we will soon get used to them and they will soon become unremarked upon features of the urban landscape.
It’s easy to complain about change. I remember when CDs were starting to become popular a DJ complaining about how soulless they were compared to LPs. That every LP had its own character due to the scratches it would pick up over time (he even produced an album someone had produced with sandpaper on the inside of the sleeve to produce extra scratchiness!). Now I kind of understand what he was getting at but I’ll still take the perfection of ‘soulless’ digital over actual flaws any day. Plus all the other advantages like being able to listen to a whole album in one go or just an individual track if you want. However you have to admit that LPs had better cover designs if only from being much bigger.
My own record collection has long been ebayed away and I’ve not bought an actual CD in years. Like just about everyone else now I consume music purely digitally via the internet. And the experience is quite different. Now you can pick or choose from the whole of music history it’s more like a favourite radio station. Gone are the days of obsessively playing the same CD over and over again because they just cost so much, until you knew every second of every track.
A very similar thing happened with film – going from videos to DVD to Blue-Ray (which I’ve kind of not bothered with) to the future, which looks like being digital streaming of some sort. Videos had their individual flaws too – I remember the glitches on my tape of Aliens so well that when I got the DVD I kind of missed them. But I’d much rather had the reliably of DVDs (and all their extras on the decent ones).
I think less people moaned about the passing of video but there seems a lot of concern for the coming of ebooks.
Now books never really suffered from the same problems as LPs or videos did. You can scratch a book and it’s still readable. But Kindles are a magic device – you have what is essentially a cashpoint plus an infinite bookshop at the end of your arm – and that convenience a killer advantage. Years ago if I wanted a book (or LP or video) I’d have to go into town, or more likely a near by city. If it was anyway out of the mainstream I’d probably have to order it and it would take weeks to arrive, if at all. Then Amazon came and it meant that just about anything could arrive on my door in a few days. Now the kindle cuts it to nothing. It’s basically crack for bibliophiles.
Kindle kills the individuality of books – not only the bent or yellowing pages or the traces and smears of spilt cigarette ash from back when I used to smoke (or those mysterious big brown stains in library books where you hope it was just a nose bleed…) but the differences in interior design and typefaces. And it’s not really clear if you actually ‘own’ a book on the kindle. But I think the advantages far out way the disadvantages. The saving in space is a big one and the price of the device will soon drop to near zero.
However I don’t think we’ll see the total death of the book just yet. There’s still a large amount of book readers who will not even have a computer or be online. And even the ones that are, not all of them will want to switch over. Plus there will always be a hardcore of serious book collectors and people who will want something signed by the authors. People will still like to buy them as presents – all those celeb memoirs and celeb chef cookery books that get bought at Christmas (and end up in the charity shops come the spring) are not going to go away immediately.
I think unlike LPs or videos when it’s only a hardcore of collectors (or DJs in the case of records) that are interested, we will end up with a situation more like when theatre and music hall / vaudeville was replaced by cinema. There still are theatres, but unlike in years gone by when people went twice a week now they go a couple of times a year, if at all. A similar thing happened with television and cinema.
I can see hardbacks sticking around for gift giving and collectors and libraries but probably less than there are now. But I see paperbacks dying back to maybe a rump of bestsellers. And bookshops? That’s another story (and blogpost)