March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 03.23.05
From the Desk of Rita Kushnir: They Are Here
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Usually my morning train ride consists of either reading or sleeping, or sporadic intervals of both. This morning, however, I didn’t feel like reading, and I couldn’t sleep because two women next to me were announcing their vacation plans at 140 decibels. So, for the first time in months, I was conscious of what was going on around me. I realized that I was surrounded by a multitude of mobile devices: PDAs, cell phones, MP3 players. People are practically bonded to their gadgets; you can barely tell where a hand ends and handheld begins. I could almost feel the radio waves bouncing about in the stuffy air of the train car. Just when I felt like all the 1s and 0s were about to close in on me, my glance fell on a book someone was reading. And I felt relieved to find, among all this mobilized technology, a real book—just paper and ink, this wonderful vestige of the 20th century.  

By Rita Kushnir




I eventually arrived at work, opened a news Web site and there it was–a horror of an article–“A Mobile Page Turner.” Though a sense of suspicion dawned on me, I kept hoping that this couldn’t be it. Hope quickly dissipated as I read the first paragraph and found out about the recent invasion of literature into cell phones. Thousands of people in Japan (of course) already use cell phones to read electronic novels they download from several mobile Web sites that offer pretty much everything from classics and bestsellers to textbooks and unpublished novels.

As I considered this concept, my skepticism grew. Most cell phone displays are pretty small. I can’t even stand to read text messages on my phone. This surely is just a trend, and like all bad trends, it will pass. After all, e-books caused a similar scare a few years ago, threatening to replace normal books, and I have yet to see one being used. But then I found out that they actually came up with ways to make reading from cell phones enjoyable—they improved the quality of the LCD and the pages flip and scroll automatically. They even try to enhance the experience by illustrating the stories. Most importantly, users can browse the “bookstore” from anywhere, and this is all available on a cell phone. Visions of train cars filled with cellular readers, staring at their phones two inches away from their faces, filled my mind and I felt doomed.

On the other hand, it’s kind of cool to have a whole library in your pocket, and the thought of not having to carry a book or go to a bookstore or require a light—or even two hands—to read is appealing. I furtively glanced at the book stuffed in my bag… Wow, only one novel, and so huge. What a waste.
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