Cohen and Rosenschweig’s Digital History, Intro

Reading the introduction to Cohen and Rosenschweig’s 2006 book,  I was for the most part impressed that the observations made therein were still relevant. The authors did an excellent job of distilling the components that made up and still make up the field of digital history. Notably however, the book was written before the entrance onto the market of the Amazon Kindle e-reader. When commenting on the possibility of digital reading usurping traditional books, the authors had this to say.

“Prophets of hypertext have repeatedly promised a new, richer reading experience, but critics have instead seen the digital environment as engendering the death of reading as we know it. Sven Birkerts has expressed the most profound sense of loss in Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. The more prosaic (and the most common) complaint centers on the difficulty of reading a screen, that is, the issue of poor legibility. But reading on screen may ultimately find a technological solution as high-resolution, high-contrast displays become cheaper to produce.”

As the Kindle has demonstrated, the readability issues in the technical sense have for the most part been resolved. Using an E-reader is no longer considered difficult, and the convenience of what can effectively be a portable library is hard to deny. That said, for various other reasons, the E-book has so far complemented rather than replaced print books. According to a Pew survey in 2014, only 4% of e-book users exclusively read e-books. In 2015, according to another Pew survey, e-reader ownership has actually declined.

Given these statistics, it seems safe to conclude that this particular fear of “techno-skeptics” as the authors refer to them, has been demonstrated to be unwarranted, at least in the foreseeable future. In terms of e-readers and tablets with similar provisions for allowing users to read online content and e-books, this book could definitely use an update, certainly to the extent of a footnote or two about the statistics mentioned above.