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Music, books, and growing up digital

By The Tech Dad

I recently had one of those “Wow, I feel old” moments. I was clearing out my mother’s basement and came across a stack of old vinyl LPs. For anyone under the age of 30, LP stands for long-playing record, and vinyl was once the universal format for albums recorded by everyone from Sinatra to The Beatles.

Of course, I didn’t get too far in trying to explain how great vinyl was to my 12-year-old daughter. It’s hard to make the case for plastic to someone who grew up with iTunes and who will soon be streaming music from the cloud wherever and whenever she wants.

Also gathering dust in my mom’s basement were dozens and dozens of books. And that got me thinking: Why hasn’t the digital revolution had the same impact on print the way it has on music?

To be sure, e-books have made remarkable progress, fueling a vibrant and increasingly popular sector of the publishing world, but they haven’t yet come close to displacing traditional print. (A glance around any New York City coffee shop or commuter train will reveal plenty of Kindles and iPads, but they are still heavily outnumbered by books, magazines and newspapers.)

Is print really different from other media or is it just putting up more of a fight? Of course, much of the resistance to digital books comes from the publishing world itself, where authors and agents are fighting hard to preserve a long-standing and highly profitable production pipeline. But it was the same in music, where record industry executives held on to a similar model for as long as they could before first Napster and then Apple re-wrote the playbook.

The pro-print lobby will argue that there is something much more satisfying about turning the dog-eared pages of a real book. But is this any different from the feeling we used to get when we would slide a record from its sleeve, lovingly wipe away the dust, and then carefully place the stylus on just the right spot?

And I’m not buying that notion of a print book being much cozier in bed. I’ll match my silent, back-lit e-reader against your eye-straining, get-up-and-turn-the-lights-off paperback any night of the week!

Perhaps the real reason print is putting up such resistance is convenience. Unlike a record player, a book slips easily into the pocket or briefcase and can go anywhere. Most people find little need for a digital version of a book because it’s already as portable as we need it to be. And the fact that a Kindle can hold 1,000 books has always been a dubious selling point; after all, how many books can anyone read at one time?

But sooner or later, digital books will trump the convenience factor as well. It’s already possible to open a laptop, an iPad, or a smartphone and start reading an e-book exactly where you left off several hours ago on an entirely different device. And everything from encyclopedias to children’s books are benefitting from the enhanced graphics and interactive possibilities that the digital format offers.

But until digital takes over, let’s enjoy the peaceful coexistence between paper and screen and let each individual choose the format that’s right for them. I’ll be more than happy if I don’t have to explain to my grandchildren what a “real” book used to look like!

This article first appeared in Family Buzz, a VerizonInsider blog on the exciting and ever-expanding world of mobile technology.

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