8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books

As e-book sales overtake paper-book sales, it seems like everybody is crying and wringing their hands about what it means -- serious, society-changing ramifications like the end of ownership, or ease of piracy, or environmental impact, or whether it makes things easier or harder for publishers or aspiring authors.

Like most important issues, those are boring. What are some effects of going to an all e-book world that haven't been talked to death? I dug around and tried to find some e-book ramifications that would appeal to the type of people who spend more time preparing for a zombie apocalypse than like, unemployment, or retirement, or something. You know, realists.

#8. You Can't Hide a Gun in a Kindle

Book safes by BookEndDesigns

Well, you can't. I don't think this is the kind of thing you can argue about. If you can put a gun in an e-reader, go on and take a photo and let's see it.

Even with the so-called "smart cover," the iPad displays disappointing performance in gun hiding.

Life has gotten harder and harder these days for would-be assassins. Some jurisdictions make it totally illegal to carry loaded guns in public, even if you really need to kill a guy.

"But you don't understand, officer. I was very angry at him!"

In the past, you could always depend on your trusty violin case, but with American orchestras going bankrupt left and right nowadays, people running around with violin cases are becoming a rarity and no longer blend into a crowd.

And old-fashioned high-tank toilets have been antiques for decades, so good luck taping a gun behind one of these modern toilets.

Seriously. Where would you even ...?

So books are one of the few things left that you can carry around without people suspecting you've got something in them. Everyone who's afraid of getting shot is wary of people with bags and thick coats. If paper books go the way of the dodo, hit victims will also start being suspicious of anyone carrying one of those useless antiques for no reason.

#7. You Need Physical Books for Physical Tasks

I'm not the first person to observe this, so I'll just say that many times when you're looking for something handy, there just isn't anything around that will do a better job than the cheap Frederick Forsyth novel you got from Half-Price Books, which, after reading 10 pages, you realized you had already read before, so you just left it on the coffee table. These important tasks include table stabilizing, spider killing, cat fight breaking up and makeshift camera stand making.


Sure, there are other tools that can do these things better, but that requires you to be prepared and know you need them ahead of time. For stupid people and poor planners like me, it's good to have the books sitting around, in their natural home in the living room, ready for anything. Like the sudden appearance of a spider, or an unexpected flower-pressing emergency.

Another hypothetical situation might be if you are bad at following directions and installed the midbeam of your Ikea bed upside-down, causing it to snap the first time you put weight on it. Now I know a lot of people complain about the Harry Potter series' lackluster prose and overreliance on cliches, but you can't argue that these aren't thick, solid books that will not collapse under your weight.

I also recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which lends solid support to both Abraham Lincoln's legacy and a bed.

Supposing we are indeed on our way to a bookless future, I predict a robust market in that future for cardboard and wooden blocks of various sizes that people just keep around their living rooms.

#6. No More Flipbooks and Mustaches in Textbooks

If our society moves to e-books, textbooks will probably go electronic as well, which is, on the one hand, great, because maybe college students will finally stop being constantly ripped off on textbooks. On the other hand, it may be the end of a proud tradition of drawing mustaches and Satan horns on important historical figures.

Or removing mustaches, as the situation calls for.

If you have never itched to add an "improvement" to one of your public school textbooks while listening to a boring lesson, then you are clearly a conformist sheep. Or maybe just a decent person who respects public property. Either way, a lot of us had no concept of taxpayer money and participation in the social contract and did in fact draw mustaches, genitalia, knives stabbing people and, if we really had a spurt of concentration, flipbooks.

This is going to be a little harder on an e-book. Maybe they'll put in some software to let kids take notes and make markings, but the thing about software is it's pretty easy to limit people to doing what you want them to do. You can't give a kid a pen that can only make notes and can't draw penises, but you could set up software that does that. Kids are going to have to wait until they are at hacking age to crack that, which means that until then, there will be quite a few wasted years they could have been practicing mustaches.

I drew mustaches on many important historical figures, such as the Mayflower.

Sure, there's Photoshop and all that now, and the kid can get all his artistic expression out at home, but there's something about drawing on something you're not supposed to, when you're not supposed to, that is really motivating. I learned to draw entirely from hours and hours of drawing in class. Every time I tried to draw outside of class, I would just sit there and stare at the paper. If kids of the next generation are deprived of this opportunity, none of them will grow up to be shitty artists like me who think they can draw. What kind of a world would that be?

#5. It May Change the Perception of the Necronomicon and Other Mystical Books

Lost in Schlock

Probably one of the most relevant concerns about physical paper books disappearing to the point where the average person isn't familiar with them anymore is: how is this going to affect movies with spellbooks and books like the Necronomicon in them? Will people stop using them in movies? Will they continue to use them in movies as archaic artifacts that the audience will increasingly struggle to understand? "Why is he trying to grab that biting leather thing off the pedestal?" they might ask. "They said he was supposed to get a book, why didn't he just download it back at the castle? Does the castle not get wireless?"

Army of Darkness Defense
At least they will have the Army of Darkness iPhone game to explain that guarding the Necronomicon is important, if not what it is.

I mean, sure, we still understand how scrolls work when we watch ancient movies with scrolls, so it won't be completely alien, but eliminating everyday exposure to books basically limits any story set in modern times to plots where treasure hunters deliberately seek ancient books of the dead for nefarious purposes, and really cuts down on variations like unsuspecting teenagers accidentally stumbling on a cursed book in a library.

On the other hand, closing one door does open others, like the possibility of a horror movie where the aforementioned unsuspecting teenagers weren't paying attention and downloaded the Necronomicon and now their Kindle is chasing them around the house. I think the studios would be really receptive to it, too, since they can slyly make it into an anti-piracy argument. ("Imagine one million Necronomicons chasing everyone around! This is why we need robust DRM in place!")

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Christina H

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