Students and Commuters: Hooray for eBooks!

Students and commuters have something to look forward to both in class and on the bus, train, or plane because of the ereader revolution.

The first digital nomads, students and freelance entrepreneurs have been mobile computing at Starbucks and other WiFi hotspots for years using first laptops, then smartphones like the iPhone, and now tablet computers, slates, and ereaders. Ereaders are primarily for reading books, but can read magazines and newspapers too, some free, some by subscription, and some by one-time purchases. Some ebook readers like Barne’s and Noble’s nook let you share ebooks using a feature called LendMe. Publishers have not been as willing to sign up for LendMe as much as users would hope, but that trend may change in the future. And now ereaders are starting to be able to do more than just read ebooks. For example, the Nook just got an upgrade to allow it to play games and surf the web, but Apple’s iPad is a computer with an ebook reader.

Student Life

One can imagine that students going back to school this fall may have a completely different experience, one which may be missing one heavy staple from the past: textbooks. Instead of carrying large books around in a book bag, one could see students carrying nooks wrapped in their nook covers containing their nook ebooks. This would be quite a contrast, but will publishers buy into it and publish their textbooks in ebook form? Will students buy enough ebook readers to support it? Will schools and teachers allow the ebook readers in their classrooms? We won’t know for sure until later on this year.

Commuting: More Green Benefits

Not only do commuters help the environment and their wallet by sharing rides or riding public transportation, but they also help reduce the amount of paper and distribution cost of that paper when they choose an ebook over a traditional paper book. Car drivers everywhere, while they can come and go as they please, have higher costs from maintaining an automobile, create more pollution, and don’t get to relax with a newspaper, whether that newspaper be in paper form or as an ebook. Will subway trains be full of ebook readers in the future? What will people hide behind when they don’t want to look at the person across from them on the train, plane, or bus? Maybe they’ll all just get along a little better, and maybe share an ebook too.

Generation X; Analog to Digital

gameboy_256In the same way saw the Greatest Generation saw the change from horse drawn carriages to automobiles and the birth of airplanes to the rise of the space shuttle, Generation X has seen firsthand the transition from analog to digital: carbon copies to CC: and BCC:, and a slide rule to an iPod. GenXers began life processing credit cards at the grocery store with a carbon copy slider, called an “imprinter”. When they went to school, their teachers made worksheet copies using a “mimeograph machine” in purple ink. They were the last to be taught how to type on typewriters and the first to use a personal computer in school. Some started out on Apple IIs and others on IBM PC clones. By the time they were leaving primary school and entering college, portable computers and cell phones were common. The World Wide Web had turned the Internet mainstream. It was now odd for a GenXer to not have an email address and a cell phone number.

Some things didn’t change though. The paperless office didn’t happen. More things were put online and sent via email, but paper remains in the office, schools, and at home. Email has decreased the use of paper mail though. Another example is flying cars. We still don’t have flying cars even though Back to the Future says we will by 2015 (we’ve got 6 years to get on that). Another hint from Back to the Future is cold fusion, which is still a dream. However recent breakthroughs by MIT in solar power technology may lead to a new era of cheap electricity which could change the economy in desert regions around the world.

Read more about Generation X.

2010; The Year of the New Automobile

So many major advances in automobile technology will come to market in 2010 that I started calling it the Year of the New Automobile. 102 years since the first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line the internal combustion engine is finally on the way out. Nissan is releasing an all electric vehicle. Toyota is to sell a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PEHV) with next-generation lithium-ion batteries. The Prius is said to have solar panels by 2009. Volkswagon is releasing a vehicle with a 1-liter engine that gets 235 MPG. GM plans to make the Volt in 2010, which is an electric vehicle with a gasoline generator on-board. Audi is making a hybrid SUV beginning in 2010 called the Q7. France-based Zero Pollution Motors is releasing an air-powered car in the US called Breeze. 2010 also shows the return of the Camaro with GM‘s new 6-speed transmission. For all these reasons, I believe 2010 is the Year of the New Automobile.

So when was the Year of the Automobile? TIME magazine reported in 1934 that 1933 was the original Year of the Automobile. This was because, “in 1933 the automobile industry … fashioned some 2,040,000 cars, 42% above 1932. Its sales not only bulged in May and June when all industries were booming, but afterwards, when other industries felt a reaction, it continued making headway. In darkest November it did 108% more business than in November 1932.” Sales of alternative fuel vehicles rose to over 1.7 million in 2007. Hyundai’s Dr Sungho Lee predicted in June 2008 that the cost of running gas-powered vehicles will double by 2010 and zero-emission fuel cell vehicles could be commercially available within five to ten years. The future looks bright for alternative automobile technologies, especially in 2010 and on.

UPDATE: Honda is bringing the Insight back to the U.S. as a 2010 model for an MSRP of $18,500. The Insight is rumored to get over 70 miles per gallon.