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E-readers: When Technology is Driven by Ludites

The key-note speaker at the Digital Minds Conference was author, Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman grew up at a time when books – at least the books he wanted to read – were relatively scarce and hard to find. He would take bus trips into the wilds of West Croydon, sometimes even as far as Streatham, to source what he wanted. It was this scarcity, at least in part, that made them so attractive. Now we have information overload, it is difficult for authors to stand out. 

He reminded us that Douglas Adams described e-books in a Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He also recalled a conversation with Adams about the threat they might pose to printed books, during which Adams said, ‘Remember that sharks were around at the time of the dinosaurs, but nothing has ever come along that is as good at being a shark as a shark is.’

But digital has killed some things. Encyclopedias for one. Encyclopedia salesmen for another.

Gaiman believes it is possible that printed books may be sharks. But only if we accept change is inevitable. Only if we make find new ways to make them desirable.

However, he is open to technology and different ways of doing things. When given an early Kindle to review, the thought it ugly and clunky. It was only when he took a holiday to Hungary with his twelve-year-old daughter, and realised he had brought nothing for her to read, that he saw its potential. Between taking a seat on the plane and take-off, he was able to download half a dozen books and was amazed at how easily she took to the device. However, it was only when he saw how it was possible to alter the font and increase the text size that he saw its real potential: it is what he calls ‘technology driven by ludites.’           

I recommend taking ten minutes out of your day to watch the whole speech here, not because you are interested in the digital age but because Neil Gaiman constructs his speech as beautifully as he does his novels.