Amazon Kindle Touch, by IntelFreePress (CC BY 2.0)
“We need a new word for ‘e-book,’” Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich declare in Slate – basically arguing that process of reading things electronically is so fundamentally different from reading the printed word that they shouldn’t be compared.
Well, they do have a point. When I read stuff online, I frequently fall down a rabbit hole in a way I never do when reading a book or magazine. I follow link after link, and discover I’ve learned a truckload of information on, say, Les Miserables, when I did not intend to do so when I sat down at that computer. But it was just so interesting. And, Finn and Eschrich argue, ‘e-books’ have the potential to tap into the fundamentally different world of electronic reading, by experimenting with crowdsourcing, embedding videos, and faster publication. And this ‘reading experience’ should be known by another word than ‘book.’
Yes, a book is different than electronic reading in my experience too. When I turn back to print, I have to consciously shut off my ADD tendencies learned from online reading and link-skimming, and commit. Frequently, I force myself to finish books just so I don’t succumb to a short-attention span completely. And, the amazing thing is, once I shut off the ‘skim-reading’ part of my mind, I can suddenly fall into a deeper reading experience than I ever do with online/electronic reading.
To be clear, I love BOTH types of reading – the exhilaration of link-skimming and information overload, and the deeper experience of committing to a book. But I mean to underline here that I agree the two experiences are very different – and that currently e-books exist in a funny kind of limbo between the two types of reading. And that the world of e-books could be broadened in a way that makes them bigger than their current existence as electronic copies of printed books (though whether this will happen is a different story). But if this does happen, a new name for e-books could help people understand how e-books are different than books, and take advantage of the fact they are electronic.
However, I have a couple things to say about Finn and Eschrich’s choice of a replacement word for ‘e-book.’ They want to call it a codeX. First, what I like about the word, and then what I don’t.
I like the roots of the word, in ‘codex.’ I love history, so a term with a long history behind it, and a reason for using it, makes me feel warm and cozy instead. (I am just naturally drawn to stuff with a history, that’s just the way I am. Anything brand-new makes me feel empty and sterile).
Now, for the bad – I really, really hate the CamelCase. CamelCase is random, capitalized letters in the middle of a word. In many cases, especially in things like URLs, using CamelCase does make things easier to read and remember (for example, HarmaMaeSmit.com instead of harmamamesmit.com). But in this case, it looks like the X is random, and it would be pronounced the same way no matter which letter is capitalized.
Secondly, ‘X’ is pretty much shorthand for making things sound science-y, modern and technology – ‘X-rays,’ ‘Xanax,’ and ‘Xerox.’ (both ‘x’ and ‘z’ are prone to this – see the number of drug names with those letters in it). This runs the danger of making the word look out-of-date when the technology is no longer brand-new – see ‘X-ray’ and ‘Xerox,’ above –and I can definitely see the word codeX falling into this. For example, in the nineties’, it was cool to put ‘e’ in front of everything technological, and then it was cool to put ‘i’ in front when the iPod came out, and now brands who did these look like they just jumped on a bandwagon.
To follow up on that point – we don’t need to make books sound cutting-edge to make people want to read them, and many people who read lots don’t care about being cutting edge. I’d be okay with just calling it a ‘codex,’ though I can see people might be afraid it sounds too academic. After all, ‘e-book’ sounds familiar. It sounds like something you already have experience with.
Basically – if we have to a a new word for ‘e-book,’ let’s make sure it doesn’t sound gimmicky, shall we?
But don’t worry, I haven’t seen any signs that vast hordes of readers are rallying behind this new name for e-books, which means the name probably won’t change any time in the near future. But I do think the idea of emphasizing how different e-reading is from print reading is an interesting one. In a world where Apple is patenting a way for authors to electronically authorize e-books, and most electronic publishers are slavishly trying to copy every aspect of a print book, the idea of trying to find a new path for electronic publishing that takes advantage of the very ‘electronic-nish’ of it could change publishing forever.
It’s just that no one’s quite figured out how to do it yet.