Smell The Page

Chalk up another reason why the screen will never replace books: your nose.

It didn’t really hit me until today when I picked up one of those new Penguin Popular Classics, rejacketed in a lovely green skin. It was made mostly out of recycled paper, and it smelled sweet. As in honey sweet. I stopped every few pages to hold the book up and breathe in its heady scent.
Well, acting against this experience is Bill Gates – who once made a prediction that reading is going to become completely online.

“We believe that as we get the smaller form factor, the screen has gotten good enough. Why is reading online better? It’s up to date, you can navigate, you can follow links. The ads … are completely targeted as opposed to just being run-of-print, where many of the readers will find them completely irrelevant. The ads can be in new and richer formats. In fact the only drawbacks of the digital form are the things associated with the device: how big is it, heavy is it, how many hours of power does it have, how much do I have to spend to buy it? But those are things that once you achieve that threshold, in terms of the convenience and the cost, then you see a dramatic change in behavior. Today, for people who read newspapers and magazines, even the most avid PC user probably still does quite a bit of reading on print. As the device moves down in size and simplicity, that will change, and so somewhere in the next five-year period we’ll hit that transition point, and things will be even more dramatic than they are today.”

For some reason I imagine a little iPod-like device with holes … from which we get little chemical particles that smell just like a new book. And as the file fades away (or gets corrupted) we smell mildew and dust and (gah!) rot. And soon we’d be all saying to each other: “Gosh! It’s got that new eReader smell!”

I understand that the way things are going books may very well be phased out, a direct result of commercial interests. And I don’t want to speculate. But I dearly, dearly don’t want books to go – if not for the feel of the page, the smell.

Like my copy of Silence Of The Lambs: smokey, old socks.

Want to take a sniff?

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