Eating My Words


 My iPad doesn’t want me to read.

It’s the only reasonable explanation for why this otherwise near-perfect piece of technology would eat my online library.

It’s a shame, really, because that’s a big reason I bought the thing. I like to read, but I tend to read three or four books at a time—and that can make for a heavy suitcase when you’re on the road. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to just have my books on one handy-dandy e-device?

And it was! Within a month of buying the thing, I had downloaded 30-40 books—classics, mysteries, biographies, children’s books, you name it, I had it. I knew I wasn’t going to read them all right away, but I like to have a good stack to choose from. And when I found my very own book online—one I wrote with my own little fingers—I downloaded that, too. Not that I would ever want to read the thing again, but, hey, it was my first book. And I did get a bit of a thrill to see my iPad place my book on the same virtual bookshelf as Chaucer and Dickens. Even in my own house, I don’t dare put my book on a physical shelf with such literary masters. Only online could my prose keep such elite company.

But then one day, when I needed to find a passage from a G.K. Chesterton book I was pretty sure I downloaded, I picked up my iPad and discovered it wasn’t there. I chalked it up to early senility and downloaded the thing right then.

But a couple of weeks later, I needed to go back to the very same book and discovered that it had up and gone—again. In fact, half the books I bought were not there. Vonnegut? Vanished. Dickens? Disappeared. Poe? Poof.

My iPad had even devoured my very own book. I hope it enjoyed it.

After some research, I discovered that some iPads do have a predilection to hide your electronic books. And that there’s a fairly simple way to download them again.

But it’s not like it keeps track of your bookmarks or notes. And frankly, it’s a little disturbing for a bibliophile like me to see a robust online collection cull itself with such rapidity. Sometimes the books vanish right before your very eyes. You’ll move your finger to open one, and then … PAFF! It’s gone. Like very annoying magic. My collection of books is currently down to three—and the books it’s decided to keep around are, frankly, kinda boring. Clearly, it took the best for itself.

I don’t know why my iPad insists on making reading so hard for me. I wonder if it’s some sort of secret directive to push me into using other, flashier apps. It never seems to eat Angry Birds or Pitfall. Perhaps it’s all part of a secret, digital plot to take over the world: We’ll forget about reading and play so much Candy Crush that by the time the computers—armed with their seductive touchscreens—ascend to the top of food chain, it’ll be too late for us.

But even if it’s not a secret plot and simply a little iPad glitch, it taps into some simmering, long-standing anxieties I’ve had about this exciting but disquieting information age of ours.

I’m a tactile guy. When I buy something, I like to be able to see it. Touch it. Find a place to put it.

Now, I realize that finding places for all this stuff can be a trial in and of itself. I rejoiced when I could put my entire messy CD collection on one nifty iPod. But I still have my CDs in a couple of crates somewhere. Because, well, you never know.

See, I know that (barring a bad scratch), I’ll always be able to play my CDs. The music on them is mine. Same with the books on my shelves. They’re there. I own them.

And while they tell me I own my digital copies of books and music and movies too, “ownership” seems to be more relative in cyberspace. I can’t play most of the songs I bought online 10 years ago, my password to unlock them being long forgotten (and I probably have too many machines linked to those songs, anyway). Some of the computer games I play force you to be online while you’re playing them. And then there’s the case of my disappearing books.

Maybe this is all fairly moot, or will become so in short order. It seems that we’re moving into an age where we no longer need to own any bit of entertainment. It’ll be all right there—assuming we have an Internet connection. Someday, we might be able to listen to any song we want, watch any movie we want, anytime we want. A universal library of everything. All we have to do is push the right button to access it.

Sounds great, in a way.

Still, I think I’ll keep my books and movies and CDs, just in case. Because if my iPad knows something that we don’t, we could all be in big trouble.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most entertaining read, Mr. Asay... about the iPad.  I'm just now picking out an e-device for the purpose of rewriting 10 books for a friend.  Your visual style and humor is excellent... thank you for the information. ☆Lesley
Elizabeth Hocker More than 1 year ago

--I started reading Les Miserables on Google. I can not believe how terrible their editors were! Just the thought of that edition makes me cringe. Then, I read the Kindle version on my Dad's new Samsung Galaxy SII Tablet, now I'm reading it in hardback from the library. Kindle and the library's book are basically the same. Other than I find the tablet to be too thin, which causes my hand to cramp after about 10 minutes or so. Occasionally books will also cause my hands to cramp, but usually it takes hours; not 10 minutes. Also, I like to read at night and I have a light sensory problem with my eyes where 1) I have to have it pitch black to sleep and 2) I can only have dim lamplight 30 minutes before bed or I can't sleep. So, reading on a tablet simply doesn't work for me.

Also, I have seen the electronic version of National Geographic's magazine and none of the screens do those photographs justice on any level.

I also don't know how many times I have needed my hard copy CDs because of computers crashing/a fire/failed backups etc.

And I completely echo what SisterCynthia said with regard to Lord of the Rings, there is something to be said for a good illustrator.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

--This sort of "glitch" is one of the reasons why I, also, have my CDs of any music I really care for and buy paper of any book I truly want around.  Tech is great, and I have digital copies of books and tunes I love for access away from my home, but I would no more rely on my Nook, iPhone, or Galaxy tablet as my sole personal repository for knowledge/entertainment than I would rely on a flaky friend for a ride to a job interview.  And, as you mentioned, as embodied creatures, I find that there is something about holding the hefty, Alan Lee illustrated LOTR tome that trumps reading the mere words on a 12oz tablet.  Same with the bible I've scribbled notes in over the past 15+yrs... touch, feel, smell, memories linked to that specific object, there is more to savor about good books than just their words. :-D