One thing that has always amused me, both in terms of when some marketers talk about e-books, and when PR people for print newspapers/magazines etc explain that they've gone totally online - is the 'we're going green' or 'being more environmentally friendly'. And many people seem to completely buy into this, without question. Perhaps forgetting that anything with a screen takes power to run, power to upload the information, and plenty of not-very-environmentally-friendly components to use. Amongst other things. I can understand the costs reasons for newspapers to go online, but when they try to justify it by saying they're 'doing it for the environment', well, that's just marketing bullsh!t. Paper isn't the enemy (and in fact is good for the environment as it is often grown from renewable and recyclable material - purpose-grown pine plantations etc - which during their lifespan actually suck up a fair bit of carbon too, incidentally).
Not that I'm against e-books - because one of the annoying things about publishing is that it can be hard to acccess some great books and authors, depending on where you are based - so something that allows a wider range of people to access a wider range of books, and perhaps encourage more people to read, well, that can't be a bad thing.
But I don't think I'll ever completely give up on paper - either for books, or magazines etc.
There was an interesting article in Business Day here in New Zealand this morning about the 'environmentally friendly e-books' debate, sparked by giant bookstore Whitcoulls' move to make up to 2 million e-books available later this week (the first big e-book move of its kind down this way). You can read the full article here.
Interestingly, as is often the case in such 'scientific' debates where you can have 'experts' on either side, people need to use a bit of critical thinking, and look at the wider, big picture - rather than just the narrow question a particular study focused on. The whole 'lies, damned lies, and statistics' thing really boils down to the fact it matters just as much what question was asked, than what result was given. Early in the Business Day article, it is noted that: "A study by United States research and media firm Cleantech Group found carbon emissions from electronic books were far lower than from traditional book publishing."
Well of course, most people would say. And it is 'of course', if you're just thinking about the environmental impact of transporting hard copy books around the planet, as opposed to transporting them over the Internet etc, perhaps. But what about the production of the (e)book? What about the energy people use when they are actually reading either option? What about the energy and components used for the Internet transfer?
A few paragraphs down, is the comment, "A New York Times "life-cycle assessment" of books and e-readers found traditional books were by far the greener option. One e-reader required the extraction of 15kg of minerals and 265 litres of water to produce its batteries and printed circuit boards, it said, while a book used 0.3kg of minerals and only 7.5 litres of water. Manufacturing an e-reader consumed 100 kilowatt hours of electricity and generated 30kg of carbon dioxide, while a book consumed two kilowatt hours and produced 100 times fewer greenhouse gases."
Lately it seems that 'going green' can sometimes be used more as marketing hype than reality - not just in terms of books, but with several other things. It's something that always fascinates me - the (mis)perceptions we can hold as a wider society. The things we assume are true, and don't question. We live in an information age, but I don't necessarily think the average person is more informed. There is more information out there (with the Internet etc), but often it is just repetitive, or press-release based. Doing research now (compared to say 10 or 15 years ago) less involved finding information, as finding good information (sifting through all the information for insights, gems, and nuggets, amidst the dross).
Critical thinking is key - being able to analyse, sift, weigh, etc.