Reading the fine print: “Amsterdam” on a Blackberry?

An interesting commentary on how e-books are infiltrating all sorts of gadgets appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal Portals column. Lee Gomes, in remarking that he was actually reading Ian McEwan’s novel “Amsterdam” on his Blackberry, observed: Contrary to all of my previous expectations, not only was I reading the novel on my cellphone, I was enjoying it, too.I had heard reports that Japanese commuters were using cellphones to read books. But I figured that was sort of the thing only Japanese commuters would ever see fit to do.

As a matter of fact, they’re not only reading them on cellphones, they’re writing them on cellphones as well. Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels in Japan, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging by subway commuters tapping away on their phones. Some critics dismiss these works as nothing more than electronic drivel, that will only hasten the decline of literary standards (although it could be regarded as a step up from that other infamous  Japanese genre – manga).

The point is that as technology evolves, so will the ways that  content is generated and consumed.  More  technology  invariably results in more content – or at least more efficient distribution of it. Witness the effect of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, and its effect on the distribution of information compared to the ancient tradition of handwritten manuscripts. Few would question the printing press’s influence on the spread of knowledge and scholarship.

So, if novels are written and read on screens the size of credit cards what’s the problem if it leads to a rise in the number of consumers of the content? I’d be willing to bet that this format is not siphoning off a huge number of readers of Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Uncertainty.

As a certain social commentator once observed: a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. (Marshall Mcluhan, The Medium is the Messge, 1964)


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