I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Refined Reader (32) The E-book

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

The idea of electronically reading books appears to have started with writer Bob Brown in 1930.  His idea came from seeing how silent movies have advanced by becoming 'talkies'.  Bob Brown called his idea the 'Readies' where books can be read in a much different way than even ebooks are read today.  His idea was to have words continuously scroll across and would have omitted superfluous words like articles and conjunctions.  It would have been more about getting the gist of the book in your mind than about recreating the reading experience electronically.

According to Wikipedia, the actual inventor of the ebook is a little unclear - it depends on the criteria one has for what constitutes an electronic book.  In the 1960s a researcher by the name of Andries van Dam, who formatted documents on an IBM computer is said to have coined the term electronic book.  But Michael Hart is popularly thought of as the inventor of the e-book for adapting the Declaration of Independence to an e-book in 1971.  Early e-books were at first mostly technical manuals to be read by people with specific interests, but when the internet came around sending e-books became easier and more useful to people.

E-books have only really taken off in the late 1990s.  It helped when a uniform format (Open eBook) was developed so that more machines could read e-books, instead of fragmenting the market with different formats.  In 1998 libraries began to offer e-books through their website.  The wonderfully archaic e-Reader pictured above (the Sony Data Discman) was released in 1992, although it's not the first e-Reader since there was a prototype portable reading unit called the Dynabook created in the 1970s.  Which would have been more akin to a laptop.  In 1997 the invention of electronic paper (which does away with the need for a backlit screen) helped usher in the more enduring kind of e-Reader, with the first e-paper reader, the Sony Librie, released in 2004.

E-books are very prevalent today - 50% of Americans own a device to read e-Books (e-Readers or tablets) so it's fascinating to see how much the industry has grown in just a few years.  The ideas have definitely advanced from the early conception of the Readies.  But it is intriguing just how much Bob Brown got right from just his concept -

Though we have advanced from Gutenberg's movable type through the linotype and monotype to photo-composing we still consult the book in its original archaic form as the only oracular means we know for carrying the word mystically to the eye. "A simple reading machine which I can carry or move around, attach to any old electric light plug and read hundred thousand word novels if I want to, and I want to." My machine is equipped with controls so the reading record can be turned back or shot ahead, a chapter reread or the happy ending anticipated.
-- Bob Brown, 1929

If you are an e-Reader, do you remember what you first thought of the format?  Were you against it before, but now love it?  What kind of e-Reader do you own now?

New York Times

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