A couple of days ago, I read at The Conversation a post titled Weighing the environmental costs: buy an eReader, or a shelf of books?. Since that (overall pretty good) article missed a few important points, I explained them here. Today, I found on the Conversation article a new comment, containing some uninformed or irrelevant statements, including:

  • a book is a lasting thing that can serve many people. An electronic device… fails the longevity test.

  • planned obsolescence is part of product marketing. Product marketing influences design. What happens to a computer that can no longer accept enough memory or a new processor to allow upgrade to the next operating system, because the present system is now unsupported?

  • do you realize how much power is consumed in just loading a single web page onto your PC?

  • The book remains as it was for decades, even centuries. The eGadget doesn’t.

My comment, in answer to those statements

This (the last) assertion doesn’t make much sense. More exactly, it’s irrelevant. May I suggest reading of my posts on this topic, to get more perspective?

In short, e-books (the actual FILES, because that’s just what an e-book is: a file) can last and be readable for centuries, if they only are in open formats.

The “eGadget” is designed for obsolescence. Sure. So are reading glasses. They break way before books, and you have to replace them. The one thing you have to realize before discussing ebooks (read my posts on this topic for more) is that the “eGadget” is completely separated by the actual “books”. It doesn’t matter, if you know what you are doing, if that “eGadget” has a very short life. Because the actual books can and should be moved from gadget to gadget periodically. If they are in open formats, they will remain readable without problems.

All it takes to destroy forever the precious paper books that “are for centuries” is one minute fire or flood.

When digital, instead, many thousands of titles fit (together with things like music and video, that could never fit on paper) in one “e-gadget” the size of one cigarette lighter. They can be stored simultaneously in multiple copies, in places very far from each other (as in “even earthquakes won’t destroy my library”), at a cost that is ~100.000 times LESS than preserving the same number of paper books with the same degree of protection. Even if you have to pay for hosting, bandwidth, and replacing hard drives every few years. And including the environmental costs.

E-books in open formats (ie independent by any specific “eGadget”) are eternal and undestructible, compared to paper books. They are the only possibility I have to pass all the books I love to all my descendants, 3 centuries from now.

And all I got was…

Not one, but two replies of the same level, that may be misleading for Conversation readers considering e-books for the first time, and therefore deserve their own answer.