In which, once again, the effects of caffeine are evident • 12 May 2007 • The SnowBlog
In which, once again, the effects of caffeine are evident
Have you ever had one of those awkward conversations, where you can see you've upset the person you're talking to and you don't really know why, but you'd still like an answer to the question you asked, but they've gone quiet, so you push them to speak and they say angrily, "Look, just drop it will you!" ?
Well, that's how I feel whenever P.M Blair or Pres. Bush are asked a question about how we got to where we are in Iraq. And it's how I'm starting to feel about climate change. Am I the only one who feels as though we're having the following one-sided conversation with government: "So we've agreed climate change is real, haven't we? Or are these latest reports wrong? Does anyone credible think they're wrong? And we've agreed climate change is the biggest threat to ever face humanity? The government has accepted that, haven't they? And we have less than a decade to radically transform global industry and personal consumption, right? Did I get that right? So how come it's still just a news story, overshadowed for weeks at a time, by the usual assortment of the big, the little and the totally trivial?"
These are the questions I'm sure lots of us want to put to the government here and in the U.S. And I feel like ordinary people are saying, "Look, we really need an answer on this. Why won't you say something? Does the fact we're not doing anything mean we're not really in huge trouble? Come on talk to me. Are we doomed or not?" And that's when I like to imagine P.M Blair or Pres. Bush snapping, "Look, can you just drop it!". (Though I suppose in P.M. Blair's case, he's more likely to claim he's already answered the question and could we please move on.) It feels like the West is in a bubble where we know the truth but we're still tra-la-ing along as though everthing's under control.
Now it may not look like it, but weirdly, this isn't a rant about how it would be nice if the people in charge of the planet could find a few minutes to update us all on their plans regarding its precarious health. Though that would be nice. It's actually - somewhat tangentially - about e-books. Surprising I know, but it's true.
I've listed the pros and cons of e-books on this blog, and I've argued with various book-lovers about the market for such technology. I've also aired my frustrations with those sorts of conversations here; the chief one being the rhetorical cheatiness of claiming that e-books will never completely eradicate paper books and so paper is the winner - as though they're competing over a parking space and there's no room for both. Or the second most frustrating: those people who've never seen the electronic-paper display of a gadget like a Sony Reader, but who confidently conclude that twenty years of research into paper-like displays will have produced something exactly like the now-discarded Palm Pilot they bought in 1998 when they were momentarily swayed by all the hype around the dot.com revolution, and thus they won't like it.
But it struck me a couple of weeks ago that there's one argument that's only ever a footnote or an aside: the fact that e-book readers - once they've been constructed - consume only electricity thereafter, not trees - and that in lady-like sips.
I can only imagine that some time in the next year, a jolt of adrenaline not seen since the discovery of fire will run through the human race and we'll rouse ourselves as though we've all been shaken roughly awake from a deep sleep, and suddenly everyone will be talking about what we can do to protect humanity and avert the crowded schedule of catastrophes now stacking up ahead of us like some Sci-Fi channel re-run of every Hollywood disaster movie ever made.
And in that fervour, where everything is re-examined and questioned, and we all tut about how the advice we get from government about what to turn off and when keeps changing, many of us will notice that bookshops are places crammed with products that were healthy trees a few months before, and each of those books, once bought and read in a few short days, has served their use so quickly as to seem almost disposable. In fact, we might start to see them as simply the packaging words come in, much like hamburger wrappers: a profligate use of materials intended only to last the few moments between purchase and consumption. And if that world materialises, in amongst all the grumbling and shared sacrifice, it may not be a question of whether we prefer paper books, it may not even be a question of whether making new books is harming the environment; it may simply come down to the gaucheness of conspicuous consumption, and people may stop reading new paper books on the train or in a library the way they would avoid smoking a cigarette or wearing mink (and the few who do may scuff them and break their spines and mutter about thrift shops). In a world where Bangladesh and Bangkok are under water, while droughts are killing millions, reading books that look suspiciously like they might be freshly printed could become positively vulgar. Disposable airport blockbusters could go the way of the elephant's foot umbrella-stand and e-readers could be as de rigueur an accessory as a gas-mask holder was 65 years ago.