The problem with e-readers

1 05 2010

A dark and gritty future ruled by giant corporations?  Cyberpunk didn’t know the half of it.

When I was playing role-playing games like Cyberpunk or Shadowrun back in college, tech implants and data feeds didn’t have compatibility issues.  You never had to worry about getting a data chip in a particular format because your reader wouldn’t handle a rival format.  Corps owned everything and everyone, but somehow the corp wars were restricted to the big picture, not to the stuff we carried around in our pockets every day, or implanted in our heads and wrists.  Of course, it was a game, and any game that rendered half of your cool equipment inoperable because of compatibility issues would cease being fun pretty quickly.

That’s kind of my point here.  I continue to look forward to a future a little like the one I role-played in college.  No, not the ruling mega-corps, or the totalitarian control  (I’m happy not to be living in Arizona just now), or the rampant poverty and inequity.  I long for the day when they make an e-reader that will work with e-books.  ANY e-books.  I don’t want to have to worry about my Kindle not talking to my Overdrive account.  I don’t want to be denied a particular title because the publisher doesn’t offer it in the format I use.  I want a reader that will load e-books.  Any e-book I want, from whatever source I want, regardless of format.  I want to keep my reading private when I want to, and I want to be able to show off the cover of what I’m reading to anyone who cares to glance over at me.  And I want to KEEP it– I don’t want it disappearing from my reader because the e-book provider decided to yank that edition.  I want to be able to share it, and loan it, and donate it, and pass it on to my heirs.  Why has OWNING a book turned into such an impossible concept?

Am I dreaming of an impossible future?  Probably.  Definitely, as long as we let the big corps set the terms of how it’ll be, since they seem determined to turn book ownership into book leasing.  Why don’t I own an e-reader yet?  Because e-books aren’t where they should be.  Because e-readers, for all their “convenience,” still aren’t convenient to ME; they don’t serve my needs.  Because an old-fashioned library still offers me a lot more choices than any e-reader in existence.