I’ve been thinking about a point which has been made over and over again over the past few years: namely, that an eBook is a legitimate book.
While I believe that eBooks are legitimate, the truth is that I don’t think they are books at all… not truly.
A book is an object… a nearly perfect object I once read somewhere. Stories existed before alphabets and writing, script existed before printing. But the difference between a story and a book was that the book consisted of pages on which the narrative was recorded. This is what made it a book. It’s a brilliant, self contained object that serves one purpose… it is a physical container for the narrative which is permanent and transportable. It exists as it is, until it is destroyed.
An eBook, on the other hand, is an experience. It may be a way of recording the same narrative, but its form and format are of a different nature. For one thing, it has no solid form. For another, while the code exists, it is communicated as data through digital devices. It is amorphous, and just because you are reading it on a screen does not mean that you possess it, or even that the digital product is local.
The eBook is the shadow of the code, cast by the digital device. It’s little more than an illusion that in some ways resembles a book. A book is a book even if you never open the cover. An eBook only exists as an experience on a digital device. It requires no cover. It can include moving images and music. The type can be altered or animated, the format is often amorphous, dependent upon which device you use to view it, along with the limitations of that device.
Calling an eBook a book is like calling a photograph a painting. Photos and paintings are similar in that they both represent images, or pictures. But a painting requires paint in order to be itself. eBooks and print books are similar too. They both communicate a narrative. But a book is a highly specific kind of container for that narrative. The eBook, though a legitimate container for the narrative, differs in that it lacks that physical presence.
It is more temporal in nature and format, and exists as a narrative only when viewed. Otherwise, it’s little more than an idea… a series of ones and zeros waiting in the dark.
However, it is this very lack of constraint that gives the eBook such potential… in that it allows for animation and sound, linking layers and multimedia connections and representations. eBooks allow for different ways and dimensions in the telling of a story (or communication of information). Indeed, it allows for entirely different kinds of stories to be told.
This is important, because it requires a different way of thinking… just as a story is designed to be told in print, or as a movie, or on television (different kinds of stories told in different ways), an eBook narrative should be designed to maximize its format, not taken from a print book and altered (or merely translated) as an afterthought.
An eBook has a series of parameters, possibilities and limitations that are different from those of a print Book.
Not better, not worse. But not the same.