Ask Harley

Will electronic books ever replace books on paper?

Let's take a moment to think about how we might design the ultimate information device: a small object you could use to read all types of information.

We should be able to construct such a device so as to be able to hold exactly the amount of information we need, including pictures and illustrations. The device should be light, durable, portable, require no power source, and be completely self-contained, so you can take it with you wherever you go. Moreover, using the device should be easy, and should not require any special training.

When you look at the reading surface, the contrast between the words and the background must be high, with perfect resolution, so you are able to read comfortably from any angle, even in low levels of light. As you read, you should be able to jump around from place to place with only a small amount of mental effort. If you don't finish reading all the information in one sitting, there should be an easy way to mark your location so you can come back to it whenever you want. You should also be able to create your own notes which would be kept permanently with the text.

Finally, the device must be able to be manufactured so inexpensively that it can be made available to people all over the world. And when you are finished with it, you should be able to afford to throw it away or keep it as you wish.

Wouldn't it be great to have such information devices? Well, we already do: they are called books.

Although various types of electronic reading devices are being developed (and have been developed for years), there is nothing that comes close to having all the advantages of a real, paper book.

So, will electronic books ever replace books on paper? Perhaps in some specific situations, yes, but in general the answer is no, not for most of us, and not in the foreseeable future.