What if civilisation *doesn't* collapse?

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A few years ago, I got rid of all my paper books and switched exclusively to eBooks. Whenever I tell bibliophiles1 this, they usually shriek in horror. What about the smell of books2?!!? What about showing off your bookcases to impress people3!?!? What about your signed first editions4!??!?!

But the other day I had someone scoff at me and say "Good luck reading when civilisation collapses! I'll still be able to read by candle-light."

This is nonsense. In the case of a Zombie Attack, am I really going to lug a few hundred kilograms of books with me? Or am I going to slip a lightweight eReader into my pocket and have ten thousand books at my disposal?

Also, where is he getting all those candles from? My eBook has a built in light which is less likely to attract Zombies and isn't a massive fire hazard.

Perhaps he's concerned that an eReader battery won't last more than a couple of weeks and then I'll be stuffed. OK, sure. But I have a solar powered portable battery. As long as the dust clouds don't blot out Earth's yellow sun, I should be able to read indefinitely.

Now, it's true that my eReader might get a damaged screen, or dropped in a puddle, or suffer any of the same calamities which can also befall paper books.

Perhaps my interlocutor's glasses will break. If so, an eBook would let him boost the font size quite comfortably.

Frankly, the only thing paper books are good for in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is burning for fuel5.

But - and this is a big but - even if eReaders are vastly inferior in an emergency... so fucking what?

If civilisation doesn't collapse, I'd've wasted time, energy, money, and effort maintaining a physical library. I'd be limited to how many books I can take on a beach holiday. Every time I moved house I'd be straining my back carrying all of them. The fire-risk of hundreds of books would have been for naught.

It's the same as people who don't pay into a pension because they might be hit by a bus tomorrow. Sure. But what if you're unlucky enough to reach old age?

You can either live each day like its your last - and deal with the consequences of tomorrow when they come - or you can take a reasoned approach to the inevitability of the future.

So I'm going to enjoy all the comforts of an eReader now. Come the end-of-the-world, I will regret... well, probably nothing.

I don't want to live like a prepper and have a basement full of pickled vegetables slowly fermenting, or a library of paper slowly crumbling.

I want to take full advantage of the modern world while it still exists.

  1. Perverts! 
  2. Why do people always go on about this? They smell... fine, I guess? It's not as if I'm huffing them like an indelible marker. 
  3. I did a 2D printing of my bookcase mosaic
  4. I'll just the authors to PGP sign the purchase transaction on the BlockChain!!!! OK, I kept a few of my signed books. 
  5. See this insightful documentary about the thermal properties of burning books

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16 thoughts on “What if civilisation *doesn't* collapse?

  1. @Edent I love physical books, but the vast majority of my reading is digitally these days. I also agree with those who’ve discussed the value in printed images/art books. Looking at my bookshelf and e-reader sitting next to each other, I think there’s a both/and option here.

  2. @DrFerrous I do find it amusing that you (and several others) read into my writing that I want to abolish paper and make everyone submit to the tyranny of ePub.

    I don't!

    You can do what you like. Fill your shelves up with paper Jeffrey Archer novels for all I care. Use the pages for bog roll if it makes you happy.

    I'm just happy with my choices and don't feel the need to change them just in case an EMP wipes out all computers.

  3. @Edent there is the apocalyptic preparation of having paper books but I've worked out that if we keep our libraries open by getting books from there we should have access to something 😁 That is if course of people don't use them for fuel so the plan may be flawed 😊

    And yes, having carted around paper books on several moves now their electronic value to me is increasing!

  4. says:

    @Edent the whole "smell of books" thing always makes me laugh. Really? Always seems like grasping for straws in the argument. I admit, there's something to the smell of an old used book store that is very nostalgic. But not so much my personal library.

  5. I bought and read thousands of paperbacks and hardbacks in the first 40-ish years of my life, and I've held on to the best of them. It's now a personal science fiction collection that is simply there for old times' sake. It makes me happy to see them, and I occasionally pick one out and re-read it. But 99% of my reading the last 20 years has been via e-books, namely Kindle.

    I used to travel with a stack of books - probably one third of my total luggage. Now, traveling with a single iPad and the Kindle reader gives me access to...almost everything. I wouldn't go back to physical books, but I do love my collection.

    One day soon I'll gift them all to the local library.

  6. Dragon Cotterill says:

    Digital books are easier to search, weigh a lot less, are far easier to store. My only gripe is that to replace your paper books with digital versions you have to "buy" them all over again.

    And by "buy" I mean purchase a lease on them, as you only get the rights to look at them for a short while (unless they're in an open format) or until the entity you get them from suddenly turns round and says that you are not allowed to have them any more. For example if you don't give them a greater share of your royalties, or if you fail to use NCX protocols or because the government/council/school suddenly turns round and says that this book now contravenes their rules.

    Oh, and also in the UK, books are VAT free. Electronic versions are not. It's only the fact that a lot of publishers have opted to give a 20% discount to most books to make them competitive, but thats not always the case.

    1. Katie says:

      As Terrence already mentioned, it's very easy and legal to remove the DRM so you can create your own local pdf copy (in the US, at least). It is only illegal to distribute copies. I have PDF versions of all my ebooks just in case.

  7. Lee Hauser says:

    I have kept my most loved books in paper, and all of my books on the great illustrators and other art books. I still have many graphic novels in paper. But the everyday meat of my library is electronic. I recently moved from Kindle to Kobo...which I could do because for as long as I could, I stripped DRM from the Kindle books I bought (it's become much harder lately).

    I've never noticed the smell of paper books, so when that comes up I just say "Huh?" I'm getting older, and the typeface on my ereader is getting bigger...can't do that with the omnibus edition of The Lord Of The Rings I have sitting on my shelf (and no one comes over to gawk at my bookshelves anyway). And even if I could read the small type, the many paperbacks I used to have would be getting harder and harder to hold.

    Yes, digital books for me! I refuse to fetishize form over content.

  8. says:

    I've been slowly transitioning to ebooks. For existing series I've continued with paper copies, but for new ones I've gone digital if I can buy DRM free.

    On the main topic of the article, I have a similar conundrum with big tech. I don't really want to use them as they might one day turn the thumbscrews. However they haven't yet, and maybe I'd be better off using the convenience while it is still here. Perhaps the difference is that Google killing products is more likely than the end of civilisation.

      1. says:

        It's more that I don't want to give my money to sellers that force DRM. I have gone that route for audiobooks however, as Amazon/Audible have a strong monopoly of that market.


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