8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books

#4. Book Burnings Will Have Less Visual Impact

Most of us are not leaders of totalitarian governments, and it's easy to think we never will be. But you never know where the little twists and turns of life are going to take you. Maybe today you are a college student folding clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch, but 10, 15 years from now, you could be an iron-fisted dictator. You never know. Like they say, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans (Vladimir Lenin). One day you are applying to a video game design program, the next day you are repealing a constitution.

Anyway, when you do become cemented into a position of power that rides on the suppression of human rights and universal freedoms, one of the important ways of demonstrating that all expression is ultimately under your control is with the unforgettable spectacle of a mass book burning. There is nothing like watching the last repositories of their culture, history and ideas being burned away to suck the spirit out of a repressed people.

It feels almost as bad as having your spunky, offbeat underdog team of crazy characters lose the regionals.

This symbolism is kind of lost when burning an e-reader, which is really just a device for displaying the information, whose original copy is obviously stored somewhere else. And considering that one e-reader can store a massive collection of text, burning a family's entire collection would probably make a sad little bonfire requiring about two newspaper pages and a stick of wood. Sure, you've cut off their access to the offending information, but the bigger point was to make a show of how powerful you are in being able to do so and how complete and massive the erasure of their identity is. You want them to be scared of you, and now they just kind of feel sorry for you.

Sure, book burning is just one of an array of tools the modern authoritarian state has at its disposal, but you really need every bit of help you can get to maintain fear and respect as anti-dictator technology (like the ability to Photoshop your head onto a llama, or tweet about how you farted during a speech) continues to evolve rapidly.

Oh man, i just realized the misquote above. I typed Vladimir Lenin, who was of course the Marxist revolutionary, but obviously I was thinking of famed musician and songwriter (and husband to Yoko Ono) Joseph Stalin.

He didn't just imagine no religion, he did something about it.

#3. How Will People Open Secret Passageways?

Seriously, if you can't pull a cleverly titled book out of a bookcase to get it to swing open, what else are you going to do? You have to put an artifact in a slot or push a really obvious wooden carving every time? Boy, that is going to get old fast.

#2. You Can't Separate Bathroom Books from Outside Books

A lot of us have separate "bathroom reading" material -- usually magazines or books with information broken into short chunks, because most people don't have time to read War and Peace in one pooping. If you do, you should probably see a doctor.

For a lot of us, the bathroom readers never come out of the bathroom, which offers a level of sanitation we take for granted. As you may have heard, toilet flushing with the lid open leads to an aerosol spray of toilet water gently settling over the surroundings of said toilet like an invisible, poopy mist.


When we leave Uncle John's Bathroom Reader in its place, the mist that settles on it stays in the bathroom. But if we take Uncle John's Bathroom Reader for the Android platform with us so it can become The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as we read it on the train, we may be bringing a lot of unwanted, monocellular little friends on that train trip.

Even if you're careful to put the lid down before flushing, there's always your hands. Sure, it might be fine if you are super careful to put the e-reader or book down, and then wipe, close the lid, flush, wash and dry your hands and then pick it up again. And how many people are going to be that careful considering that less than half the population washes their hands after going to the bathroom if nobody is watching?

Interesting note about that study -- once they put up a sign telling people to wash their hands, almost all the women started washing, while the number of men washing their hands actually went down slightly. Apparently 2 percent of the guys refused to wash their hands just to spite the sign.

"You're not my dad, sign! You can't tell me what to do!"

So yeah, no matter how careful you yourself are, for the general population, one reading device traveling constantly between the bathroom and the outside world means that a small-town stardom-seeking poo bacterium has that many more opportunities to make its big break.

We could buy a separate e-reader for each location we're going to read it in, but most people probably would hesitate to shell out the money for that. Which brings up a related point ...

#1. People Will Really Have to Think Before Handing Out Fliers and Religious Pamphlets

Most of us who live in this modern society live under a deluge of unwanted paper, whether it be junk mail, or restaurant menus on your doorknob, or rave fliers stuffed under your windshield wipers, or religious pamphlets shoved at you by insincere-looking people who won't shut up.

Right now, with paper being as cheap as it is, they will carelessly toss these fliers and tracts and pamphlets at you as if it were confetti. If they were handing you this information on a $100 e-reader, however, I think these struggling alt-rock bands and mass proselytizers might spend a little more time considering exactly how much value the recipient is likely to place on this information. Seeing your five-cent tracts strewn on the ground might give you a slight sense of martyrdom without causing you to change your methods, but I think seeing a pile of your ridiculously expensive electronic pamphlets trodden to pieces by the uncaring public might lead to a change in strategy.

"I knew I shouldn't have tried to hand them out at the Tri-County Track Meet."

I don't personally think this is a drawback, but from the perspective of the literature distributor, it probably is. It's important to look at things from other people's perspectives so we can better understand how wrong they are.

"Oh, come on," you might think. "Just because they stop publishing books in the future doesn't mean people won't still make fliers." Maybe not, but maybe so. Things like paper become cheaper when they're mass-produced. If you're a huge company turning out reams of paper for reports, newspapers, magazines, books and whatnot, you can turn out each piece of paper for cheaper than if you were a small boutique house that only uses paper for greeting cards and the occasional run of band fliers.

You can get some "lost cat" sign business, too, if you kidnap some cats.

If they stop making mass media on paper, that cuts out a lot of the market, which means less paper is going to be made, which means it might get more expensive. Maybe they're not handing you Nooks, but maybe they have to hand you really expensive pieces of paper. I am not an expert on the paper business or economics, so I could be way off base, but even if we're not actually headed toward a world where people have to think long and hard about if you are really interested before handing you a piece of promotional literature, we really should be.

Even if e-books completely flop and nothing else here comes to pass, I think we should brainstorm to find some other way to get this part to come true.

For more from Christina, check out 5 Reasons Women Are As Shallow As Men (According to Science) and 7 Things From America That Are Insanely Popular Overseas.

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