Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On the Perils of Technology; or Technochondria: BEA 2011 Post # 1

Today I am off to New York to attend Book Expo America for the second time in as many years, writing on a small electronic notebook, to post this onto Thirsty when I arrive at the hotel. This is simple but wonderful technology, which makes carrying work with me much less cumbersome than it would otherwise be. I've packed lightly for the trip: 2 1/2 days in New York, followed by 4 1/2 in Montreal, before I return home late on the 31st, with one carry-on dufflebag carrying all of my clothes and work materiels. A lesson learned from the fiasco of a volcano-interrupted London trip, when I packed far heavier and didn't use any of it. While away I'll finish two grants, submit one electronically, finish two other final reports, manage email, help put CNQ 79 to bed, do a bit of extra promotion in support of a few Spring books, write a handful of letters, finish a final edit of a manuscript, and still, hopefully, take in a new Mamet play when I am in New York.

A major part of the reason why I am going to BEA this year is for the professional development. There's a range of excellent sessions on this year, many of them dealing with e-books and digital technology. This is something I have to get a handle on over the summer: last year we digitized a good chunk of our list, we have a contract with Sony on our desk, and plans to pursue others over the summer. As Carolyn Kellogg wrote on Jacket Copy yesterday afternoon, e-books will be big here in New York this week. It's pretty obvious and bordering on a cliche to claim that e-books are beginning to play a serious role in publishing, and that any responsible publisher needs to start figuring out a digital plan. But it's no less true, and I'll be attending sessions on the coming digital revolution for a good chunk of this afternoon, tomorrow, and Thursday.

I've been trying to figure out a digital masterplan for Biblioasis in fits and starts over the course of the past year, but its not been easy: it's been hard enough keeping up on the day-to-day operations here. We need more help here, more time to think, less time bogged down in adminstration and bureaucracy and more freedom to actually sit down with a relatively clean plate and brainstorm. Don't expect that will be happening, alas, any time soon. In order to familiarize myself with the new technology I picked up a Sony E-Reader a little more tha a year ago, and though I only used it sporadically after the first month or so of ownership, I've been a big defender of it. It's small, attractive, easy to use, and I think it offers a far better reading experience than most of the other electronic reading devices I've handled, including the Kindle -- which I loathed on sight -- and the iPad, which is far too heavy, and too bright and hard on the eyes to read on for more than an hour or so at a time. I've used the Sony e-reader mainly for reading manuscripts, a few public domain books. So far I've only purchased one title: Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save, an impulse purchase after hearing him on the BBC last year, which made me realize the potential of these devices to increase sales. Determined to pack light, this time I downloaded three key manuscripts I wanted to get through while on this trip. Just today, on the way here, I was marveliing at the wonder and convenience of this technology, how its allowed me to pack far lighter than has been possible in the past.

But then the other shoe dropped. Carrying my bag on my shoulder, an egg and cheese sandwich from the airport foodstall, and my e-reader, my bag slipped off my shoulder and sent my e-reader flying. It only fell 2.5-3 feet, though it did so hard, from the unexpected force of the heavy bag coming down on my arm. It thankfully hit carpet, though hard indistrial airport fare. I didn't worry about it: the advertisements said that the reader should be able to handle this kind of fall. But when I turned the reader on to check on it the e-ink seemed to have spilled and pooled all on the one side of the screen. I tried to reset it, in the hopes that it might be okay, but to no avail: the damn thing is ruined, and I won't be getting to those manuscripts on this trip afterall.

If this had been a new book, the used bookseller in me would have had to downgrade the condition of the volume from Fine to Very Good: it would have suffered a bumped head or tail or corner. But it would have remained a fine book just the same, and I could have read it as I'd intended. If it had been a printed, unbound manuscript I might have had to reshuffle the pages, but I could have continued to work. (Thankfully I do have one of these with me, and it will benefit this trip from the extra attention.) But with an e-reader, a simple, everyday accident can ruin it, and leave you unable to continue. And you don't merely lose one book either: you lose a library, or at least the effort that goes into accumulating and organizing it. What I am now left with is yet another piece of attractive digitial junk.

I spent $300.00 on this reader, and would be surprised if I used it more than 100 hours in the last year. Not a very good investment, and it is unlikely I'll be replacing it any time soon. It's back -- at least in part due to financial necessity -- to good old hardcopy for this jet-setting publisher!

1 comment:

Alex said...


You hear a lot about this: How e-readers can't survive falling in the tub, or having coffee spilled all over them, or a short drop onto a carpeted floor. But I wonder if they have much of a lifespan even if they never meet such a fate. A desktop computer is basically (a) out of date; and (b) given to breaking down pretty much continually, after only around three years. And an e-reader is a much more compact and complicated a bit of technology. How long will any of these things last? Are people going to have to keep buying new ones every 2-3 years?

Just something I wonder about. Not a road I see myself going down. Not being a jet-setting publisher I don't have to worry about traveling light . . .