Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Smudge of Eink

I have long been a fan of the artefact known as a book.

However, I've also been rather excited by advancing technologies that would allow me to, for example, carry hundreds, perhaps thousands of books with me relatively easily, so that when I travel I not only have a book to read, but I might also have a back-up book, or two, or three, or a hundred.

Right now, for example, I've got 5 books on "the go" - ie, books that I'm in the middle of reading. Two of them are physical books, two of them are digital books and one of them is an audio book. Two rooms of my house have physical books that await me. (The bedside table and the reading chair), I've got a book to listen to while commuting or going for a run, and a couple of others I can read in short snippets while on the go.

Life has been good for this life-long reading nerd.

Until a few days ago, that is.

Having been without a vehicle lately, I've been taking the bus in to work each morning. Using the HSR has been a pleasant experience. Walking to the bus-stop I've been able to listen to an audio book. But when I'm sitting on the bus, I enjoy the experience of reading. And since the physical books I'm reading right now are weildly thick books and more difficult to stuff into my laptop bag, I've been taking my Sony PRS-505 with me.

I've owned my Sony reader for a couple of years now - it's an earlier version of the reader, but the design of it is, in my opinion, better than the more recent models. (One of the things I like more about the 505 version is that the "page turn" option is duplicated, appearing on the right-hand side of the device as well as the bottom left -- it meant that, nomatter which hand I was holding the ereader with, I was able to easily turn the page relatively easily (ie, without having to use my other hand) - this was useful whether I was lying in bed with one arm behind my head or standing on a bus or train and holding on to something to keep from flying forward at sudden stops.

Life was good with my Sony ereader and it's e-ink screen. It was a nice, lightweight device, measuring roughly 5 X 7, or about the size of a mass market paperback, yet about a quarter of an inch thick, and perhaps a pound in weight.

The eink experience of reading is pleasant on the eyes. The joy of being able to carry more than one book on the device, listen to music from the device or even store pictures on it were neat novelties - I didn't often take advantage of most of those options, but they were nice to have, particularly when showing off the reader to others.

This version of the ereader didn't have WiFi. No, it wasn't as convenient as being able to download new reading material on the fly - to get new content onto it, I needed to hook it up with a USB to my computer and download or move content over to it. Not a big hassle, and having a handheld device that did NOT connect to the internet was a benefit, in my mind. Enough distractions abound without having to deal with my own temptation to be reading email or checking my RSS feed, or checking in on a social network.

As I said, life was good. I was taking my Sony ereader to work with me in my laptop bag, enjoying the commute and the extra reading time I was able to get in.

Until the other day when I pulled out my Sony reader to continue reading the book I'd been enjoying and noticed a small mark on the eink screen. I rubbed at it, but it didn't go away. It was an "eink smudge." That day's transit to and from work had had no particular issues. IE, I hadn't dropped my bag, hadn'y thrust anything into it in any sort of violet fashion. I'd merely carried it to and from work like I do thousands of times a year.

But there, a little more than half-way up the screen, was the tell-tale smudge of eink, suggesting to me some sort of damage had occured to the screen. It reminded me of a crack I remember getting on a laptop screen about ten years ago when I'd accidentally stepped on the closed laptop that some moron (me) had left on the floor.

My heart skipped a beat.

I turned the device on and waited the half second for the screen to come alive.

The top right quadrant of the eink screen was blocked/blurred. About 45% of the real estate of the screen was now "dead" - nothing showed on it.

I flipped pages. I turned it on and off. I went through the library, opening new material, different documents like images, etc. Nothing worked.

I went online to various forums, followed the steps to reset the entire device, even wiping out my memory and restoring to factory settings. None of that worked either.

So right now, I have a device that, originally, cost a few hundred dollars, can store books, music and photos but is virtually useless as anything other than an mp3 player. I have ebooks I have purchased through Sony which I can't read on my portable device any longer (yes, I can read them on my computer through an Adobe product - but I don't really read ebooks on my computer - that's so 1999)

I keep looking at that silly smudge of eink on the screen of my digital book reader.

Then I look over at the 8 sets of bookshelves in my home library.

And I think -- I could have easily transported any one of these books back and forth from work. None of them (not even the limited edition slipcase collector items I purchased new) cost nearly as much as the eink reader on its own. And none of them would have been rendered unreadable after a typical day of going to and from work.

And then I sigh and mutter something to the effect of: "Electronic devices come and go, but books abide."

No I haven't given up on digital books and e-ink devices.

But I have renewed some of my belief, some of my passion about the durability and longevity of that long-running artefact known as the printed book.


lime said...

bravo! i don't have an ereader yet though my dad and daughter do and love it. but this makes a really good point. the other thing that often sticks in the back of my mind is when i had library courses. during the references and research class i had to visit a governement depository. seeing rows and rows and rows of material that was often duplicate but merely converted into whatever the latest electronic format was was very strange. noteworthy was the librarian saying several formats were entirely unusuable because the hardware needed to read that format had died and couldn't be replaced. no such worries with an actual book, though of course mold, insects, fire, water, etc are still concerns...but dying technology...nope, not a problem with a book.

Mark Leslie said...

Funny - all those things that could easily "take out" traditional paper - and yet much of it survives . . .