Researcher and Writer in Washington, DC

How E-Readers May Exacerbate Human Isolation

Source: Liam Quin (2003)

Previously I critiqued e-readers.  In short, I argued they were functionality without a purpose. They just do not fit my media consumption needs.

Today, Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post wrote of the architectural ramifications of the disappearance of books.  It is an interesting architectural angle on the matter, and Kennicott also raises some intimately human issues—e.g., “A wall of books is mortality made geometric, a pattern of hope and loss, ambition and failure.”  He’s right.

The replacement of hard copy books by e-books reader on e-readers also would have effects on human interactions. To cite just five examples:

  1. When I visit someone, I tend to eyeball their book shelves. It gives me a better sense of who they are, what their interests are, and it can provide a nice basis for starting a conversation. (I suppose  a substitute for stocked book shelves would be some sort of stand for one’s e-reader that holds it up while the e-reader flashes cover shots of the books in one’s collections.)
  2. Bye-bye books means bye-bye book fairs, book stores, and libraries as places where one can meet and interact with others.
  3. Author book signing events might become weirdly anachronistic.  (I suppose some sort of technology can be ginned up to allow authors to use a stylus to sign e-books. Maybe there is hope.)
  4. o.k., raise your hand if you ever were at a cafe, park, or bar, and checked out another person (in part) by looking at the cover of the book or magazine they were reading?  The gal dressed in black reading Foucault?   The unshaved guy staring at Siddhartha…  With e-readers, this enjoyable little bit of voyeurism will disappear, as will the ability to introduce yourself to that person by saying, “Oh, are you enjoying Hesse?”

For now, I’ll leave it at that.  Readers, please e-mail me [kevinrkosar[at]gmail[dot]com]  your own observations on how books facilitate in-person interaction.

E-readers, then, disrupt and sever some social interactions, and do not, so far as I can tell, replace them with other human interaction.  Perhaps it is a stretch, but I’ll suggest it anyway—-e-readers may exacerbate human isolation.

See Philip Kennicott, “The Home Library Fades Away, Part of the Framework of Our Lives,” Washington Post, August 15, 2010, p. E6.

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