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Literature Offered On Cell Phones

March 22, 2005

On the face of your cell phone appears one of the following texts:

"riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

"It is a street not of sorrow, for sorrow would be human and recognizable, but of sheer emptiness..."

"Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don't know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed."

Would James Joyce and Henry Miller roll in their graves? Does it depress Toni Morrison? If their classic works of literature were offered, in snippets of a few lines at a time, for view on cell phones? Are John Grisham and Dan Brown simply happy to be cashing in on a new medium by which their books can be read? Or are they all simply happy that more people may now catch up on the classics or the hack best sellers they've failed to read until now?

Several mobile Web sites are now offering hundreds of novels. More cell-phone users in Japan, as reported by an Associated Press feature news article, are with fervor taking advantage of reading classics and best sellers on their phones.

I have a problem with this; and not in a high brow/low brow--technology versus tradition sort of way. I'll be the first to raise my hand in acknowledgement that people do not read enough — and by "read," I do mean literature, not People magazine. But think of the headache to be endured in reading, say, a 300+-page novel on roughly the size of "half a business card." Even a short story of fiction, read by way of a few lines per page (i.e., per screen), could potentially drive one to give up the classics altogether and go straight to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or Everyone Poops. Even one of those romantic novels with Fabio on the cover seems to be far too long to squint at a cell phone's screen for a lengthy period of time.

And at what point will someone find him- or herself sitting long enough to cover a decent amount of a novel and yet not be prepared and willing to have the paperback present? An "automatic page-flipping" feature can’t be enough (see AP article). Just because you can read a book on your cell phone while sitting at home by no means makes it a better-choice way by which to read than the actual-size book.

According to AP, the latest versions of these cell-phone novels are downloaded in short installments and run on handsets as Java-based applications. Users can browse as though in a bookstore (though without the books smell, walking the aisles, feeling the paper pages, or scanning the covers — so, really, very little like browsing a bookstore). Of course, if you know exactly which book you’d like to read, you can access the library "whether you’re at home, in your office or on a commuter train," which I admit the novelty itself is kind of cool when commuting daily without wanting to carry a full-size book because of lack of arm room during rush hour to flip pages.

(Personally, I read with a writing tool; and my marginal notes and text-underlining are, at this point, out of control. This habit would also leave ink marks and lead-engraved indentations on the screen of my phone, which would be, simply, uncool.)

Of course, this was inevitable. Cell phones are used for so much nowadays, whether for communicating directly via voice or text message, or for playing games or taking pictures, or for relaying other data: receiving weather forecasts or airline alerts or e-mail or news headlines or photos or music or stock market quotes. At some point in the future, the cell phone will do anything you want it to. As Tom Waits jazzily smoked and croaked:

"That's right, it filets, it chops/It dices, slices, never stops/lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn/And it mows your lawn/and it picks up the kids from school/It gets rid of unwanted facial hair/It gets rid of embarrassing age spots/It delivers a pizza/And it lengthens, and it strengthens/And it finds that slipper that's been at large/under the chaise lounge for several weeks/And it plays a mean Rhythm Master/It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar...And it's the only product you will ever need."

Digressing to the first inquiry of this post, however, long-dead authors would likely feel the same way as Beethoven, had he known his masterful works were to be used for ring-tones equally as often as Eminem's raps.



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Comments to Literature Offered On Cell Phones

  1. RE: Literature Offered On Cell Phones
    David St.Clare :

    Infact Jamba! (also known as Jamster! of Crazy Frog fame) offer books around the world for download to low-end mobile phones.