Technological camouflage

Lovely column by Charlie Brooker on why he’s an ebook convert.

But the single biggest advantage to the ebook is this: no one can see what you’re reading. You can mourn the loss of book covers all you want, but once again I say to you: no one can see what you’re reading. This is a giant leap forward, one that frees you up to read whatever you want without being judged by the person sitting opposite you on the tube. OK, so right now they’ll judge you simply for using an ebook – because you will look like a showoff early-adopter techno-nob if you use one on public transport until at least some time circa 2012 – but at least they’re not sneering at you for enjoying The Rats by James Herbert.

The lack of a cover immediately alters your purchasing habits. As soon as I got the ebook, I went on a virtual shopping spree, starting with the stuff I thought I should read – Wolf Hall, that kind of thing – but quickly found myself downloading titles I’d be too embarrassed to buy in a shop or publicly read on a bus. Not pornography, but something far worse: celebrity autobiographies.

And coverlessness works both ways: pretentious wonks will no longer be able to impress pretty students on the bus by nonchalantly/ demonstratively reading The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, at least until someone brings out an ebook device with a second screen on the back which displays the cover of whatever it is you’re reading for the benefit of attractive witnesses (or more likely, boldly displays the cover of The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard while you guiltily breeze through It’s Not What You Think by Chris Evans).

And another advantage of the technology — you can read at night without disturbing anyone. I’ve currently got E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View on my iPod, for example, and, finding myself awake in the small hours last night, was able to continue reading without switching on a light.