Since we got our federal income tax return in February, we have been busy using the money to patch some holes in our lives. We paid down some credit cards, paid off some old debts, and brought ourselves into the realm of tablet computing. My Dear Wife has wanted a tablet for some time to handle the myriad articles she has to read, and she had her eye on an iPad. But first, we found an Android-based tablet on clearance, so we gave it a try. It turned out to be just what The Youngest One wanted for his upcoming birthday, and no one else liked it nearly as much, so it went to him. My wife got her new iPad, fell in love, and has lightened her bookbag considerably.
I’m still on the fence about whether or not I want to get a tablet or an e-reader. I must admit to a shade of tablet-envy. The apps look fun and the technology is impressive, but I often find them very frustrating to use. (Keep in mind that simple things are difficult for me, but difficult ones are easy). I like the idea of having one, but the fact of ownership, as well as settling on a product or format, is difficult. Having all my books in one lightweight device would be great, except for one thing: I already own them! I don’t know of any practical way to convert a printed book into a digital file. Scanning every page, converting them to PDFs, and storing them that way would be way too time-consuming and cumbersome. It’s not like buying a CD and burning a copy of it. If I woke up one morning to find that digital elves had already done it, that would be a different story, but I don’t relish the idea of either re-copying or repurchasing most, if not all, of my library.
Then again, would I have to? Or would I simply add digital titles instead of paper copies? Wouldn’t that rob me of the serendipity of the yard sales, thrift shops, and discount shelves where I have found some of my favorite titles? While I will grant that both of the major sellers of e-books have discounted and free titles available, I find it hard to compare the experience of browsing through stacks of actual books to scrolling through lists on a website. I need to remember that the former has an actual value to me; perhaps hard to quantify, but then, many precious things are.
The second-hand e-book seems not to exist at this time, and there’s no telling whether it ever will. I understand the authors’ and publishers’ concerns about copyrights and revenue streams, and as a writer I should be careful not to throw stones in a glass house. Still, the cheapskate within wants to find the 25-cent rack of e-books, or at least know it’s out there, before committing to a new medium.
Another point is that I’m not sure I need to add another wrinkle to the fabric of my life right now. I’ve actually been trying to streamline things so that I can get to do what I really want and need to do, and in one sense it feels like getting another device and hooking into another system would take me in the opposite direction. On the other hand, consolidating functions: reading, writing, mail, calendar, amusements, into one device would be streamlining and allow me greater efficiency and productivity, right? Is that what I want? Currently, I shuffle between three or four notebooks, two calendars, and a laptop computer. I had started this essay on paper, and I’m continuing it with a word processing program on my (gifted) MacBook. I’m also partway through a dozen or so books, and can only tote one or two with me at any given time.
Still, I hesitate. Cost is certainly an issue: the least expensive full-function tablets are going for around $200, and a shiny new iPad is close to triple that amount. The products are too new for there to much of a second-hand market yet, the way there is for notebook computers and PCs, at least in our neck of the woods. Even where there is one, the discounts are not very deep, maybe 20 percent. Compared to a five-dollar pen and a two-dollar notebook, there’s no comparison, especially when I have a very nice computer for posting to my blog, checking mail, and all the sundry things a computer can do. But the 17-inch MacBook, while technically portable, is a bit ungainly to tote everywhere, and somewhat constrained by its battery life. At the same time, I hardly need to take it everywhere, do I? Then again, if I could, how much more could I do? On the other hand, do I want to be that connected all the time? I feel like Tevye. This argument is starting to run in circles. Whether the convenience will be worth the cost doesn’t look like a question I can answer from this side of the experience.
What I do know is that actually writing on a tablet looks a darn sight harder than it needs to be. Since they are designed mainly to consume, rather than produce, input is a little more problematic. Bluetooth keyboards are available, but at an extra cost; the iPad has handwriting programs, but such apps for the other platforms are neither as common nor as well-developed; and, the smaller scale adds constraints that don’t exist with other formats. The full-size keyboard on my MacBook has spoiled me for anything else, and…get this…I really like writing by hand with a nice fountain pen on good paper! I think differently with a pen in hand, and my mind goes to different places. Handwriting on a tablet doesn’t compare, not that I should expect it to.
Right now, it seems that if I have to think about it this hard, I probably don’t need one.