Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This Guy Knows Better Than You...He's More "Serious," Too

I'm concerned about Bill Henderson.

Who is Bill Henderson, you ask? I don't know. I've never heard of him until today. But when you occupy a perch as lofty as Bill Henderson's, looking down on the rest of us inferior beings, it's a long way to fall, so I hope he doesn't get hurt if he slips.

Bill Henderson wrote a piece in the April 11 edition of Publisher's Weekly, where he advanced an alternative viewpoint to the generally positive reaction electronic reading devices have received as they have grown in popularity. You can read Mr. Henderson's entire piece here, if you're interested.

As an author whose first book is available solely in electronic format, and whose second book will also be available solely in ebook form, at least for a while, you would probably be unsurprised to discover I have a different viewpoint than Bill Henderson. But to each his own, right? There's plenty of room in the world for all manner of opposing viewpoints, right?

Well, apparently not to Bill Henderson. In the style typical of a person who considers himself superior to you and me, he makes arguments based on that perceived superiority. First, he quotes a book claiming that after years of digital addiction, we are becoming a society of "digital scatterbrains...even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb."

I have a couple of observations regarding this argument, and I realize we're already into the sixth paragraph of this blog post, so I hope you're still with me. But Bill Henderson offers no proof in support of the above argument. It appears in a 2010 book by Nicholas Carr, and if Mr. Carr provides tangible proof of this charge in his book, it wasn't transferred to Bill Henderson's PW piece. It's nothing more than the opinion of some guy that appeared in a (presumably) non-fiction book.

But here's the thing: Even if you grant Henderson's premise, I can, and will, make the argument that the proliferation of digital books and ereaders may actually reverse that trend. How? If the current generation of children and young adults has spent their lifetimes with their noses stuck inside computers and digital games, etc., as most would agree is the case, wouldn't it stand to reason that books available on digital devices might have a greater appeal to that segment of the population?

And if those books have a greater appeal, doesn't it make sense that at least some of these "at-risk" people (remember, this is Bill Henderson's premise, not mine) would benefit from exposure to books available electronically, discovering reading and thus teaching their "scattered" brains to absorb more than three or four paragraphs at a time?

Henderson's second argument, in my opinion, is the one that cements him as a guy with a serious superiority complex. Just so you don't think I'm exaggerating, here is the argument, in his own words. "...what serious writer would create exclusively for an ereader?"

Translation: "I'm a 'serious' writer and I hate ereaders, so the rest of you mere mortals should hate them, too. Trust me; I know what's best for you."

The notion that you're not a "real" writer if your words do not appear in ink on dead trees is pretty old-school for a guy who seems to view himself as an advanced thinker. And I have news for you, Mr. Henderson. I'm pretty serious about my work, too. Of course, (hold your nose while you read this part, Mr. Henderson) I write thrillers and horror - you know, the sort of lowbrow drivel you wouldn't waste your time reading - so I'm obviously not a "real" writer, anyway.

In Henderson's final argument, he takes on the notion that we are somehow saving trees by using ereaders as opposed to ink and paper. It's an interesting argument, and he quite correctly notes that any eco-benefits ereaders provide by saving trees might well be more than offset by the energy and materials required to manufacture and power those devices.

But again, we disagree on the interpretation of this argument. Henderson claims it takes 33 pounds of minerals, plus 79 gallons of water, to "refine the minerals and produce the battery and printed writing" in a typical ereader. But here's what it takes to produce a book: "recycled paper, a dash of minerals, and two gallons of water."

I'll have to take his word for it, because Mr. Henderson offers no proof of any of these numbers. But, again, even if you accept them as being correct, there is more than one way of looking at it. I have roughly forty books on my Kindle, which means that, using Henderson's own numbers, I have actually saved one gallon of the earth's precious water with my Kindle.

And nowhere does he offer the definition of a "dash" of minerals, so I'm unable to make a reasonable comparison there. But the point is that you don't put just one book on your ereader, you put many. Dozens, hundreds even, so comparing the energy it takes to manufacture one ereader with the energy it takes to manufacture one book is a false and misleading argument.

It's clear Bill Henderson loves books, and I applaud him for that. I love books, too, I've been reading them my entire life and will continue reading them until the day I die. But is it really necessary to pit reader against reader? Can't you maybe admit, Mr. Bill Henderson, that your way isn't the only way? Can't you come down off your high horse and admit that?

Can't we readers all just get along?

1 comment:

Dani said...

Interesting. And even though your post was "too many" paragraphs long...I read it all the way to the end.

And I'm still resisting the e-readers! Well, actually, I have decided I am getting one, I just haven't picked one out and actually gone out and purchased it. :)