Settling the e-books vs direct-to-brain digital text streaming argument

Call me old-fashioned, but no matter how popular direct-to-brain digital text streaming gets, I’ll never give up e-books.

Sure, there are lots of arguments for having the entire canon of English literature digitally streamed to a receptor that has been surgically implanted in your brain. The one-time insertion cost sounds like a bargain at $329 – but don’t forget the $97 activation fee and the $49.99 monthly connection charge (though you can bundle that with direct-to-brain web surfing and texting to reduce overall costs). After all that, you still have to pay for the books!

Exorbitant cost aside, if I can have the complete works of Shakespeare electronically beamed into my brain in under ten minutes, can I really say I’ve experienced Shakespeare? There is something organic about the experience of moving your eyeballs from left to right over an LCD screen in order to take in a sequence of marks the brain then must interpret as words, all the while using your hands to grip a lightweight, durable device.

Not to mention, the claim that direct-to-brain digital text streaming saves a lot of time is pure marketing hooey. Yes, you may be able to absorb all 784 pages of Tartt’s universally beloved early 21st-century classic The Goldfinch directly into your brain in 8.73 seconds. But you then need to mentally process the novel’s contents in sequential order. If not, your brain might access the part of the story where Theo discovers his childhood friend Boris stole the renowned painting from behind Theo’s bed years ago and thus Theo never actually had to worry about being discovered with it as an adult and the emotional impact will be completely lost on you. You will experience this as a mere plot point and not as a devastating revelation capable of making you wake your sleeping boyfriend to describe the entire plot up to that point in a futile attempt to share the unbearable agony.

Compare that to the pleasure of an e-book on a softly glowing LCD screen, the comforting reassurance of this physical object in your hands, emanating electromagnetic radiation into your vital organs. And if you concentrate on an e-reader, you can catch a subtle whiff of warm plastic.

Even as direct-to-brain digital text streaming prices come down and infants receive receptor-insertion upon birth, I believe e-books will remain as popular as they have been since they decimated the paper-book industry within a few short years of their introduction. Because nothing can replace the glow, feel, and smell of a good e-book.

This was first published by McSweeney’s.