This is our cue to rhapsodize about the superior merits of paper, how satisfying a beloved tome feels in the hand, how the smell of the copy of Madame Bovary we bought in that funny little bookstore in Lethbridge always reminds us of … do you remember?
And it's true. The paper book is better: a perfect technology - portable, cheap, versatile, capable of snuggling itself into our cozy desires.
Against this is a mere gadget, like the walkie-talkie Aunt Flo gave us kids for Christmas 30 years ago that we abandoned shortly after Boxing Day when the batteries wore out. It's a fad. It won't last. The real thing will outlast it once the frenzy dies down.
Possibly, though, it may not. Printed books don't just appear out of nowhere, like stones on a riverbank. They are the products of a complex infrastructure of printers, publishers, agents, bookstores and distributors that function within an economic model. Take away a significant chunk of market share and the whole thing can easily collapse.
Does this matter?
Well, for all those who work in the venerable book trades, yes, it does. For readers, who can say? If it means they switch from one medium to another, however aesthetically impoverished, to gain access to a quantitatively greater richness of written texts, maybe it doesn't matter.
For writers, it may just be a matter of adjusting our expectations about the peripherals - the pleasure of seeing our names on a cover, the illusions of the immortality we fancy comes with a physical thing.
But for all the Chicken Little agonizing about the demise or non-demise of the paper book, the issue is minor compared to the larger question: How do we get people to care about what they read? How do we foster for words the spaces of thoughtful attention that are crucial to the reading experience, especially in a world where attention is becoming devalued through the progressive commercialization of human consciousness.
Ultimately, it's not the future of the book but the future of the reader that should concern us.
George Sipos is author of The Geography of Arrival: A Memoir .