My argument has always been that one day the technology will be so seductive so clear and tactile that you wouldn’t want to read anything else.
The same old arguments replay: You can’t read an ebook in the bath. (Yes you can, if it’s waterproof.) They are hard to read. (Not if the screen is paper white and dazzlingly high quality.) You can’t curl up in bed with an ebook. (You can if it’s soft and cuddly.)
Recently, as ebooks and ebook readers have started to become a commercial reality, people have been asking my opinion as an author. Also I’ve recently become quite enamoured of cephalopods – squid and octopi – and I’ve come to think that in their study lies the real future of the ebook.
Octopus skin is a brilliant video screen. It can imitate the colour and pattern of its surroundings perfectly. The technology that lets octopi do this would make and incredible ebook reader screen – rock solid with no flicker or bright backlighting, which tires the eyes.
But the amazing thing about octopi is that they can change the shape and texture of their skin at will. That is the way to make ebooks irrisistable.
My big argument against ebooks is that they are homogenous. Real books are individual objects that you can have a relationship with. They have a smell, weight, texture and design all of their own. The physical ebook reader, the kindle or iPad is always the same and has a blanding, levelling effect on the software part of the book. The screen is always the same.
How amazing would it be if the reader (the octopad or cephal-ipod!) changed its shape and texture to suit the book? If it could emit smells and watch your reaction to the text, it could set the scene and atmosphere and bookmark the point at which you fell asleep.
Changing the texture and shape of the reader would make each new ebook new, fresh and original, not like all the other books on you ebookshelf, as they are today.
This will come, It will happen. I don’t know when, but it will. I’m sure that there are labs out there already working on it – bringing electronics and biology together.
And of course if your ebook reader is half octopus, it will be quite happy if you drop it in the bath – in fact it will probably find the soap for you!