Hard to Hear a New Voice
February 18, 2009
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve now read books on a digital device for over a decade. I started with the original Palm PDA, the green one, a piece of ancient technology. I then progressed up the scale with two subsequent Palms and now have the Sony Reader PRS-5o5, which seems to me an incredible leap forward.
I’ve read everything on one device or another, including the following books, or large sections of them: Shakespeare’s King Lear, Macbeth, Chaucer, Cicero, Milton, numerous writings of Martin Luther, Joel Barlow, Philip Freneau, Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, and over the years more than I can immediately remember. Most recently, I’ve read D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, a book I always wanted to get around to reading, though he was never one of my literary heroes: “It is hard to hear a new voice… We just don’t listen.”
I think something like that has happened with eReaders, as it has with literature and poetry, but it’s changing as the technology has improved. The Kindle didn’t appeal to me given the required uploading of one’s own documents, and downloading them back to the device. I chose the Sony Reader because I believe it’s more flexible. I have an existing library of over a thousand books from Gutenberg.org and all over the Net, including some I’ve scanned myself. I wanted more control over my library than I ultimately felt the Kindle and other eReaders would allow me.
Sony’s software, though, has problems that get in the way of the experience of reading, requiring far too much tinkering around to copy files already sorted on one’s hard drive into “collections.” They’ve been criticized too, perhaps justly, for trying to corner the market in their own way. I think Sony has a chance of beating the Kindle and other devices, if it allows readers to hear the voices, some new, of the writers they want, not just those on its propriatary bookstore site, and develops a better software package to support the eReading experience. Only one or two updates during the last few years just isn’t enough support for serious improvement to take place. Sony needs to listen to and to hear its users if it’s ever really going to improve, and not just the technically inclined, but those who are serious readers of real literature, not the predominantly popular schlock they’re pushing on their elibrary bookstore.
Or Sony’s Reader will go, I suppose, the way of the US car industry… another company will figure it out.