In the early ‘90s, Peter James made the daring move of publishing his sci-fi story, entitled “Host,” on two floppy disks rather than in a traditional printed paper book. This sparked a huge debate around the world. Rather than praise, the planet’s “first electronic novel” was met with distrust. Some claimed that James was on a path to destroy the novel as we know it, while others knew that it was only a matter of time before eBooks would become the norm. Bold actions such as this have shaped modern literature and paved the way for children, teachers, child care providers, students and parents to have quicker, easier access than ever before to stories and learning materials. While many may not stop to consider and appreciate the history of the electronic book, its creation is just as important to literature as Gutenberg’s printing press.
The First Digital Library
Though “Host” is often hailed as the first eBook, several major works were copied in an electronic format before James had even conceived of his story, much less written it. eBooks have been published to the web since the 1970s, when Michael Hart began posting text for the world to share. These works were already more than well known, such as the Declaration of Independence. Hart had a vision, he aimed to create a way for millions to read and share text at very minimal or no cost.
The Revolutions of the ‘80s
Up until the 1980s entering text into a computer was a daunting task. People had to enter each letter of a previously published novel by hand. This took an enormous amount of time and effort. The ‘80s brought many revolutions that made converting a book to digital format much easier. Many books, including the Grolier Encyclopedia, were published on CD-ROM disks. This change brought simplicity to carrying around text. Gone were the days when a person had to lug around heavy books – the future of literature became clear, everything was going digital. When scanners and digital imaging became available in 1989, books no longer had to be converted to eBooks by typing. All that had to be done was to scan the work and post it to a digital library.
The 1980s also saw another great leap in the development of the eBook: interactive fiction. Favorite stories, such as “The Hobbit,” were converted into computer adventure games, where the user had to work through a series of challenges by typing text. The first work that was actually labeled an “electronic novel” was Robert Pinsky’s 1984 “Mindwheel.” This interactive text was the predecessor of the many publications that are now available to children around the world.
The eBook Today
The dream of the eBook is now a reality, as millions currently have easy access to their favorite stories and educational materials. It has never been easier to instantly find and pick up a novel to read. Thanks to the eBook, children are learning to appreciate reading and more often choose to read over other activities, such as watching television. There is no limit to what the future of literature may bring