December 30, 2000

Electronic books could revolutionize reading, but we ought to consider their far-reaching impacts before we get carried away by enthusiasm.

"The e-book promises to wreak a slow havoc on life as we know it," warns Jason Ohler, a professor of technology assessment at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, in the January-February 2001 issue of THE FUTURIST magazine.

Ohler’s assessment weighs the pros and cons of e-book technology’s impacts on social relationships, the environ-ment, the economy, etc. Before you curl up with an e-book, consider the disadvantages:

They increase eyestrain due to poor screen resolution. They replace a relatively cheap commodity with a more expensive one. They displace workers in print book production and traditional publishing. E-books make it easy to share data, thereby threatening copyright agreements and reducing compensation of authors. E-books also create nonbiodegradable trash.

On the other hand, e-books save paper and trees. They reduce the burden of carrying and storing printed books. They promote self-sufficiency in learning and make reading a collaborative experience online. E-books could have built-in translation and culturally-specific annotations. E-books also create new jobs for writers and artists and encourage self-publishing.

In the final analysis, says Ohler, e-books should gain society’s approval if a few conditions are met: make them biodegradable and recyclable, solve the problem of eye fatigue, make sure the "have-nots" get the technology, and support e-book training in schools and businesses.

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