This problem. It’s one we all have. Checking Instagram 897 times a day. Refreshing Twitter but not even reading whatever comes up. Feeling our phones buzz, imagining that a cool stranger is offering us our dream job, and then hating ourselves for being so dumb. “If you use a device all the time, it’s going to affect your nervous system and your patterns of thought and social interaction. It’s really just an impulse check that’s needed, I think,” Dugoni says. He sees this as a new, awkward epoch of humanity where we might all need a bit of help being our better selves. “In our hyperconnected, atomized modern society,” he says, “stepping into a phone-free space provides the foundation for sustained attention, dialog, and freedom of expression.”
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Chris McKinlay was folded into a cramped fifth-floor cubicle in UCLA’s math sciences building, lit by a single bulb and the glow from his monitor. It was 3 in the morning, the optimal time to squeeze cycles out of the supercomputer in Colorado that he was using for his PhD dissertation. (The subject: large-scale data processing and parallel numerical methods.) While the computer chugged, he clicked open a second window to check his OkCupid inbox.
McKinlay, a lanky 35-year-old with tousled hair, was one of about 40 million Americans looking for romance through websites like Match.com, J-Date, and e-Harmony, and he’d been searching in vain since his last breakup nine months earlier. He’d sent dozens of cutesy introductory messages to women touted as potential matches by OkCupid’s algorithms. Most were ignored; he’d gone on a total of six first dates.
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This is not one of those rants about missing the texture, touch, colors, whatever of paper contrasted with the sterility of reading on a tablet. No, the real abomination of ebooks is often overlooked: Some are so ingrained in the product itself that they are hiding in plain sight, while others are well concealed beneath layers of commerce and government.
The real problem with ebooks is that they’re more “e” than book, so an entirely different set of rules govern what someone — from an individual to a library — can and can’t do with them compared to physical books, especially when it comes to pricing.
The collusion of large ebook distributors in pricing has been a public issue for a while, but we need to talk more about how they are priced differently to consumers and to libraries. That’s how ebooks contribute to the ever-growing divide between the literary haves and have-nots.
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