Prior to the holiday season, my work travel schedule took me to quite a few airports. And in every Hudson news or other airport newsstand, I notice the Steve Jobs biography. I heard some great things about it, but every time I considered it, all I could think of was “darn, that book will be a pain to travel with.” It’s not a coffee table book big, but at 600 pages or so, it’s definitely not a thin 200 pager which fits easily within a normal laptop bag. Of course, my wife would tell you that I carry a massive bag, and that it shouldn’t be a problem. But, already carrying at least two laptops (one for my company, one for a client), my portfolio, power cables, flash drivers, even I didn’t want to pick up the extra weight of that book. Then the holidays happened and I was lucky enough to get the book as a gift from my family.
I decided to give it a try and take it with me on a few trips. I would actually carry the book outside of my bag and put it through the security process in a bin. And the funniest thing happened…I received several comments a day from passerby’s, from other passengers on my flights and even from TSA’s finest. The comments either gave the book praise or asked me my opinion. Both of which encouraged short conversations between me and someone who probably never would have talked to me except for this larger than normal book I was carrying. A book that carried that story of one of the most remarkable inventors and CEO’s of the last century.
As I was flying back from my last trip and I finally finished the book, I realized something else. As Steve Jobs predicted, his iPad invention which plays that intersection of technology and the humanities, would change the book industry. Numerous articles on top news sites will give credence to that daily as publishers, state and federal education committee and schools/universities struggle to re define how to play in the new digital publishing world. But the piece that I’m not sure Steve predicted (or any of the e-Book device manufacturers), was how having all of your books loaded on to a digital device would change the interactions and questions you get when carrying a traditional book. No longer will people be able to quickly notice a book and either ask you about it, or make a judgement about what you do, or who you are. To the passerby’s, you’re merely reading an “iBook” or other digital content. I’m not saying this is always a good thing, but even if I was to carry a medical journal or law school book, or even a copy of BusinessWeek, people can form some opinion of me and potentially ask me a question about that item.
Physical books and other reading materials seem to provide a personal connection, that I’m not sure an iPad does at this point. The passenger in 20D would be hard pressed to know if I was reading the Bible or reviewing the WSJ. I guess that’s an unforseen tradeoff the iPad causes. Users have access to a wealth of reading sources at their finger tips in a super convenient and portable package in exchange for some level of personal anonymity. I for one enjoyed reading a physical book like the Jobs biography but I can see where the prevalence of digital reading options will affect even the most normal of human interactions. “Excuse me, do you like that iBook?” just doesn’t seem to have the same ring.