TL;DR

We need to stop with those “e-” things (or with those “virtual” things). If you think that the function is what matter, stop renaming things that did not change. It could even help to fix some things we screw up in the transition.

About

We seems to have taken the rather bad habit to rename objects or concepts once they cross the line between the analog and digital world, prefixing the last ones with “e-” or “virtual”. Apart from being illogical (and hurting my language skills), I think it is actually the cause of several real world problems.

Words and forms

In Europe (and specially in french), “audio discs” used to refer to “Vinyls” (the flat, big black discs that you never saw outside of your grandmother house if you are less than thirty years old). When the compact disc arrived, we started to call those “CDs” to differentiate them from “discs”. Then, progressively, the “CDs” became just “discs” and the big black discs became “Vinyls”.

A vinyl disc.

Similar story for the mail : letters stays letters when they start to be delivered by car, and no more by diligence (they did not become “c-letters”). Only when they moved on the web did they became “emails” (note that in between, many people - including me - now call those just "mails").

Function (should) trump form

At the same time, I never heard anyone writing an “edocument” or filling an “eform”, which is probably a good thing : when we are talking about functional “objects”, function should trump form. A book is something that contains texts (and possibly images or schemas) that you can read. A music album is a serie of songs that you can listen to.

That it is stored on a tape (remember those ? and why having a pencil nearby was useful ?), a vinyl, a compact disk or an hard disk should not make any difference in what it is. Same for a book. Whether it come out of my bookshelf or my iPad, it is still a book.

This “difference” in language make no sense. I’m no more reading ebooks than I’m listening to emusic or discussing with my ecolleagues.

It should be about the function.

What about the difference

But this difference is not only meaningless : it is actually harmul. Ask yourself those two quick questions :

  • Would you buy a book that only you could read ? Would you accept that your librarian come to you use to burn it ?
  • Would you buy a Compact Disk that could be listened only on one specific Hi-Fi system ? And that the vendor could remotely make autodestruct ?

Even worse, would you agree that the librarian or vendor are within their rights to do so ? The only reason we see this madness appear is because a) it is technically possible for the vendor to do so (without infringing on other, better protected rights such as private property) and b) because we (via our legislators) let someone pass the idea that an ebook was something different from a book, hence allowing different rules.

The first step to end this madness about DRM, lease, resell, etc of ebooks, music, software et al is to recognize that those are just “goods”, that ebooks are just “books”. It could already throw away a good part of the nonsense we are living in today.

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