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.