E-books You Are Next

To e-book or not to e-book, that is no longer the question, to tweak William Shakespeare a little bit.  Writers and publishers who have an aversion to e-books and everything digital will find consolation in the fact that e-books will be redundant one day. 

Yes indeed.  Just look at your library and see the morose audio cassettes in their holders.  Don’t you think that the floppy disks definitely look suicidal because they miss all the air miles from Beijing to Chicago in their masters’ briefcases?  The once haughty CD has a grudge against e-mail attachments and memory sticks.  We will not even discuss still cameras and video cameras.

Every dog has its day, said someone somewhere.  The question is: what will replace e-books?  Technology is time specific.  It is not infinite.  The world has gone digital and everything is affected, so is literature, how it is created and how it is distributed.  A book or e-book starts with an individual, a creative mind, a writing space like a study or kitchen table and writing tools. 

Ancient Egyptians had their own writing tools.  Quills were used as pens in the 7th century.  When the British landed in South Africa, Africans quickly realised that it was important white men who used quill pens.  Locals then called army generals and police commissioners sibalukhulu (the big quill).  Thomas Jefferson, the President of the United States of America used the quill pen in the 18th century.

Most writers have embraced strides in technology that enable them to write faster.  Traditional publishers must also come to terms that e-books are changing the way the end product is distributed. 

The hostility around e-books, Amazon Kindle and related technology is not new.  Human nature tends to resist the unknown.  There was a time when writers refused to embrace word processing.  They took the view that using the same ten fingers on a computer keyboard somewhat tarnished the purity of whatever novel or text book they were writing. 

They preferred pounding their typewriters, struggling with tired ribbons that wanted to take holidays abroad and the thrill of going to the next line by physically moving the typewriter carriage.  They did not send a global press release when they finally threw in the towel and embraced the computer.

AmaZulu have a saying, okungapheli kuyahlola, which means all things come to an end.  The Remington typewriter, the writer’s status symbol came off the production line the first time in 1878. 
It ruled the roost for some decades before competitors came in and wanted a piece of the action.  Today, the typewriter family sits idle in museums, sulking because of the insults hurled at it by visiting groups of the iPod generation.   “Daddy, what’s that?”

What has not changed is the status of the writer.  The writer is still a privileged individual in any society, despite a deluge of articles that profess that e-books, websites, blogs, FB, Twitter etc. have levelled the playing field.  The fact of the matter is, to e-book or not to e-book concerns those with extra dollars, euros, pounds, yens and other currencies. 
The owner of the Remington or a Brother was a rich man, so is the owner of a very basic computer and an internet account.  Canada Council gives a huge chunk of funding to vacation writers.  They go to sunny countries and write books which will be labelled Canadian.

The e-book debate concerns privileged classes.  It does not exist in schools without electricity and running water, where children write sitting on the floor because there are no desks and where the word library is a foreign language. 

To them, the e-book debate is academic.


Nonqaba is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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