Thursday, December 31, 2009

Terrorism: Good for the Publishing Industry

This week the TSA introduced a new set of guidelines for both domestic and international flights, as a result of the Underwear Bomber's attempted detonation of a thusly-concealed explosive on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The new rules include increased gate screening like pat-downs and bag searches, plus during flight passengers may be asked to stow personal items, turn off electronic equipment and remain seated "during certain portions of the flight". The wording is confusing, travelers' reports present conflicting experiences, and the blogosphere has been abuzz with commentary.

But one positive (in both senses: definitive and favorable) implication is the trumping of eBook readers by real, live books. MediaBistro publishing blog GalleyCat picked up on a Gizmodo post about the literary relevance of these new flight restrictions:
"Bring a Book or Prepare to Die of Boredom: Bring a book. Not a Kindle, not a Nook, not any other sort of ebook reader, but a plain ol' low-tech book. Because apparently books are pretty much the only thing you can have in your hands during the final hour of your flight ('the government says ok') and how the hell else will you keep from falling into a cold and uncomfortable slumber?"
Score one for the traditional media camp.

In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the eponymous "book" is actually a precursor of today's Kindles and Nooks:
"The reason why it was published in the form of a micro sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in."
Adams' science fiction cult novel is supposed to be humorous, but he has a point. Mobile devices make written material more transportable. I've been reading Anna Karenina for over a month now, since I can only bite off snippets here and there at home, the volume being too hefty to cart around in my purse.

Maybe that's why some schools, like Toronto's Blyth Academy, are replacing textbooks with Sony Readers. I remember being weighted down, to the point of chronic back pain, by a backpack with screaming seams. I think involving technology in schools is almost essential, given the frequency of updates in each discipline (scientific discoveries, additions to history books), the necessity of learning how to use such technology to prepare for a professional life in a high-tech society, and the boon of social engagement's enhancement via modern media. Time was when weekly class visits to one of the school's two computer labs were an exciting field trip. Time was when teachers' grades were handed to you in person, in red ink, rather than posted online. My 17-year-old cousin recently G-Chatted to my older sister when she asked why he was signed online during school hours, "Ok, Miss I-Went-To-High-School-In-The-Nineties. We use technology in the classroom."

But reading a text for pleasure, rather than curricular education, is another issue. When it comes to reading recreationally, like some travelers are wont to do on flights or in airports, I'm still all for a (small-to-medium-weight) paperback.

In a December interview with Lucky magazine, Emily Sugihara, creator of Baggu Bag reusable shopping bags, said she preferred eBooks to print books because of the ease of travel. Looks like she may be out of luck.

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