I've got to be honest, I'm drooling for one of Sony's new ebook devices* when they come on the market. It's going to bring a potentially huge amount of text my way that's otherwise difficult or a pain in the arse for me to obtain in printed form - particularly out of copyright books, classic texts and CC works by people like Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts that, yes, are obtainable online, but like most people I know I hate, hate, hate reading prose off a regular screen.
The important thing about Sony's new ereader is according to reports so far, it comes very close indeed to reproducing the sensation of reading normal printed paper: it's not backlit, in other words, so you'll need to have the lights on to use it. It'll inevitably have a text resize option that'll be heaven sent for anyone with bad or failing eyesight (I have a small, non-growing cataract in one eye, and a plastic lens in the other). And besides, it appeals hugely, gigantically to my need for gadgets. Imagine, I mentioned to someone doing a university course, how nice it would be to have everything you need stored on something the size of a paperback book instead of lugging half a ton of books around campus.
This device likely also represents the sound of an enormous thudding hammer sounding the future for authors like me. It's going to be very interesting, seeing how we adapt to the challenges of this new technology. I suspect the major street bookstores have very little to worry about over the next couple of decades, in the sense that paper books and online works will remain side by side for a good bit to come. On the other hand, I think the newspapers - particularly the broadsheets - are going to have to think hard about what's coming.
Change is good: stasis is death. That, if anything, is the core philosophy of science fiction. For writers, the question may be whether to adapt or die. It may kill some of us off, or it may provide a huge new market and a golden age for fiction. But here's something I've been wondering about - art, including the written word, is a response both to the culture that produces the art, and to the way technology changes that culture. Is it possible that at the heart of electronic paper lies a new fictional paradigm - that in some intrinsic aspect of this technology lies a new way of writing, of engaging/involving the reader?
Off the top of my head, I can think of two ways this might go - Mark Danielewski's superb, ground-breaking House of Leaves is one. This actually started life as a series of online documents that created the creepy sensation of having stumbled across something real, Blair Witch style. TV shows like Lost are another: the producers run online text/interactive games that explain some facets of the show that hint at a greater story. So maybe it'll be some form of interactive, multiple-level story - a story, say, where you have to search the 'net for clues to what happens next in the narrative: or maybe it'll be something else altogether. For writers, the next ten or twenty years is bound to get very interesting.
*Keeping in mind this is Sony, of course, who like to install secret software on your computer and who don't like me listening to some cd's or watching some movies on my laptop which, frankly, really, really fucks me off.