Interested in science fiction and fantasy from a young age, by the mid-90’s one of my favourite programs was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There were many bizarre futuristic aspects of the universe depicted in this program that I accepted without question. However, in one episode (titled Explorers) the captain’s son asks him to read a story he has written. The text of the son’s story is displayed on a small digital tablet (remember, this was aired in the mid-90’s) and I remember thinking at the time “no one will ever want to read off something like that.”
Imagine my surprise.
Even at a tender age I thought this kind of reading looked hard on the eyes and lacked the tangibility of a paper book. This kind of reading wasn’t real enough…even for the United Federation of Planets. But I’ll tell you what futuristic book technology I did love. I loved Penny’s computer book on Inspector Gadget.
For those who never experienced it, Inspector Gadget is a program from the early 80’s where a bumbling cyborg detective attempts to out-wit his nemesis, Dr. Claw. In this recurring quest, Gadget is assisted by his dog Brain and his niece Penny. Penny’s best tool in aiding Gadget is a computer built into a book. Imagined in the early 80’s, Penny’s computer book anticipated video chat, regulation and control of outside devices and the existence of a database probably comparable in size to the internet. But I don’t think it was these capabilities that so entranced me. Rather, I think it was the idea of advanced technology held in such a familiar and trustworthy package. Penny’s computer book looks (and I assume feels) like a hardcover book. Where the still laptop-like packaging of today’s e-readers and tablets suggests, to my mind, the idea that all worthy knowledge is now to be digitally gained, the binding and leaves of Penny’s computer book show that it is technology rooted in what came before it, paper and the ink on a writer’s fingertips. I bet it smells nice too.
In the past few months I have begun to make my peace with e-reading, mainly after a surprisingly positive experience with the Kobo Glo (more on this to come). And yet, if I didn’t think it was a fire hazard, I’d probably be gluing a binding, intro and appendices around my laptop this second.