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Moses and the ETablets

January 31, 2010 | by Melanie Chartoff

Apple’s newly released iPad is getting a lot of hype, but I’m not convinced.

My fondest memories of childhood are of my Aunt Vivian, my very first audiobook, reading to me in her New Yawk accent from the Golden Book of the Bible when I was three.

Immersed in her ample lap, with her voice broadcasting stereophonically through her bosoms and into my ears, I absorbed the wonderful stories and gorgeous illustrations of the basket of baby Moses in the river reeds, of him receiving the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for our people. I thought of how heavy stone carved books of laws must be, compared to the print on paper pages within the colorful cover Aunt Vivian held for me.


Now the sudden advances of e-inked e-Books, and several lightweight E-Readers have me famisched! How best would a person read to a child these days?

Maybe Moses will get the big ten on a lightweight e-Tablet in the digital Biblical era to come.

For those as yet unfamiliar with the frenzy of new formats, an e-book, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is "an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a personal computer or hand-held device designed specifically for this purpose." An e-Reader is “a lightweight device specifically developed for downloading and displaying” these materials page by page.

Kindle was the first lightweight e-reader on the market, and Barnes and Noble's Nook had been neck and neck in new sales. Now an Apple a day aims to obsolete others away as its new, larger, multipurpose iPad tablet is the talk of tech town, much as its iPhone was a couple years ago. You can read books and newspapers, and buy countless of its iBooks on both Apple products. It’s got pretty pictures, too. Oy!

More challengers to our hardcover habits will soon emerge, and, although their fonts won’t come with an aunt, they will all be able to read to you. Books are shaking in their pages, as e-books develop several versions of old fashioned story sharing. You can easily read from the Nook with another person in your lap, plus the Nook device has e-book sharing programs, so two sets of eyes can drink from the same download on distant receivers. And if your friend doesn’t finish that borrowed e-book in two weeks, it disappears so they have to buy it to complete it. Authors are getting short-changed financially, as the books only cost $9.99 ($12.99 to $14.99 on the iPad), but "long-changed" in terms of broader readership and immortality. The Nook has an MP3 player for hearing humanly read audio books. The Kindle can convert its materials to robotically read books. Actor readers are passe as the robots are non-union cheap, as in “free” with the download.

I confess. Although I value myself for being a veritable geisha girl of petite carbon footprints, a proud Prius person, a low plastics, solar radio listener, who recycles rabidly, and saves paper frugally, I still resist the very idea of the iPad and other like e-Readers. Even though I know for a fact, or from what passes as fact (Google and Wikipedia), that old fashioned paper and binding style books consume three times more raw materials and their production involves far more energy, I still can't get my mind around reading pleasure and leisure books in my bed on an E-Book. To me digital absorption feels like computer work.

I love books for their varieties of font and paper and their evocative, illustrated covers. They have personalities. Their bindings feel like hamisha old friends. I couldn't very well get my favorite authors to autograph my first editions on an E-reader, could I? I can’t put my book label imprimaturs on the beloved tomes I loan, can I? Books feel warmer.

And so they feel to Josh and Andrew, my teen consumer experts next door, who no longer like being read to in laps, but still love books. They use their Kindle minimally, still preferring the "feeling" of and the smell of paper pages. At first, these kindelach enjoyed the novelty of the Kindle reading to them, in its electronic monotone with its comical mispronunciations, but tended to tune it out in a few pages, they tell me. So, they still lug 30 pounds of books to school in their backpacks. It's backbreaking, but also muscle building, their folks tell me, like making Moses lug stone tablets up and down Mt. Sinai, like building the pyramids for the Pharaoh, made the Jews stronger. These boys find referring back to a prior piece of information works far better with a real live study book rather than a digital facsimile with an electronic bookmark. Additionally, these nice Jewish boys can’t use e-readers on the Sabbath.

So I feel okay about lagging behind in this ‘evolutionary process’ in good company. Why, even J.K. Rowling, who rekindled kids' interest in reading, remains a “no Kindle” author. And, after all, as Jaron Lanier says in his sobering new book, available in all forms of ink, You Are Not a Gadget!

But, my avid bookworm friends who ingest a book a day, now burn the midnight oil with their "kindling." They feel affection for it, travel with it, shlepping countless books to the South of France inside its lightweight frame, instead of lugging heavy tomes in their luggage. I remain an old-fashioned, stick-in-the-mud, nostalgic, low-tech throwback, in the book area, although my LP’s mold in storage, and I’ve abandoned my VHS’s. And although I know that CD’s and DVD’s will soon become a thing of the past, reduced to sound byte-able digits, too, I feel far less sentimentality for their passing than I do for books.

Maybe both books and e-books will have their place in the age to come, maybe there will still be shelf space for the old and the new to exist side by side in our psyches. Maybe buying your Bar Mitzvah boy the Hebrew Bible online, using only 4MG of iPad memory, will give him more head room for the “BibleWorks” program for his old testament studies, rather than having him hold the works in his busy hands in his messy room. Maybe buying your child an e-reader will set him/her on a far more advanced course of studies, while you continue to read to him/her from a fairy tale paper book you both love. Maybe Moses will get the big ten on a lightweight e-Tablet in the digital Biblical era to come.

This winter, putting a toe into the possibilities, I've taken to bringing my laptop to bed, downloading audio books read by great actors. It's not the same as being amidst the lap of my affectionate Aunt Vivian, but it is warm. Perhaps if it came with headphones that pinched my cheeks....

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