Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.
As the world has become more technologically advanced, the tech gurus around the world have been creating gadgets that will capture the hearts of many consumers. In a world today where it seems that the majority of people have laptops and smart phones (iPhones, Blackberries, etc.), the logical progression was to create a newer, cooler, hipper gadget – the eBook. The eBook is a convenient way to read books through an electronic device. This new technological wonder is marketed for giving you the multitude of resources you would encounter in a library, but all the resources will be available at your fingertips through a very portable device.
As an engineering student, I often had to drag several books with me for classes, which was not an easy task because the books are usually heavy and only seemed heavier with each step I took to get from class to class. The convenience of eBooks is undeniable. You could have something slightly larger than a cell phone contain hundreds of books. You would have all necessary information available to you right then and there, without the back-breaking labor associated with it.
At the moment, Sony, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon are the main competitors in the eBook market. You can also compare the eBooks to see which one best fits your needs. While the competition is driving the manufacturers toward faster and better eBooks, there are also several concerns. Due to my current occupation and months of focusing on eWaste, my mind immediately started thinking about the amount of eWaste could be added thanks to these new gadgets. To also provide me with another perspective, I asked my husband’s thoughts on this. He is a graduate student in literature and is solely responsible for the multitude of books in our apartment and the piles of books at his office desk are a thing of wonder. If anyone could see the benefit in eBooks, it would be him!
We discussed this topic while I took notes on his questions, praises, and criticisms of this new technology. Once again, the convenience of eBooks is astounding. Instead of checking out 20 books from the library, he could potentially purchase the books. While he currently does not have to pay to check the books out at the expansive UIUC library, most of the books he encounters may be good for future research and are added to the “Books I would like to buy” list. With an eBook, these purchases could be made much easier, and books could be purchased for $10-$20 (this is an approximation) as opposed to the $50 to $200 of some of the current books. A brief article about the comparison of electronic and paper books can be found here, but this topic will be greatly discussed in later segments
His list of skepticisms outweighs his list of positive attributes to this new gadget. The first question he has regarding the new eBooks is one regarding ownership. While the current hardware is available, what may happen when hardware and software updates are available? Apple has experienced similar issues with their iPhones. When new updates are available, they sometimes render current phone applications useless. Unfortunately for those users, their application and the money they paid for it is gone. Will the same thing happen with eBooks? With a book, one has the physical possession of it, and someone loses possession of the book by losing the book or selling it. An eBook could potentially be removed with the push of a button, while a traditional book can be taken from you by physically taking the book from you. This issue is already prevalent, as seen through a pending lawsuit against Amazon, where the book 1984 was removed from a Kindle because of its controversial content. Cases like these are very important, because they determine the fate of the eBooks. No one wants to have information they rightfully obtained to be deleted without their knowledge.
While we both agree that this practice is problematic, we view it from different perspectives. While he does not want to pay for books and then have them simply taken from him overnight, I am concerned about potential waste. As new technology is created, additional wastes are added. If someone bought the first generation eBook, technological advantages of newer eBooks (which is oftentimes accompanied with lower prices) lead to purchases of the newer electronics and the disposal of the older electronics. Additionally, if an eBook device is paired with a company which has the tendency to remove books from its users, customers will buy a competitor’s product, which will leave their current gadget as one more piece of eWaste. The new eBooks will then only complicate things for recyclers, who need to figure out how to take apart these gadgets and recycle them properly. More importantly, if illegal dumping to undeveloped countries continues, the newer generations of eBooks will only increase the amount of exported eWaste.
Stay tuned for additional installments to this mini-series. For related artciles, have a look at my eBooks Diigo list.