Audiobooks are easy now. They are easy to listen to: just pull up an app on your phone or tablet, choose your book, and press play. They are easy to get: you can buy one with the a few clicks from an online store. Or, if you don’t want the commitment of full ownership, you can borrow one from the library. Using my phone, I can check out an audiobook from the library and download it in just a few minutes. There, I timed it. It took me exactly 7 minutes and 14 seconds to click on an app, browse my library’s catalogue, and download a David Leviathan book. And I was being choosy. I didn’t just select the first book I saw. I actually want to read this book.
We are basically living in a sci fi wonderland for book lovers. If my childhood self could have seen this future while she was carrying around a small briefcase of cassette tapes, listening to a book on her bright yellow Walkman, she would have wept actual tears of joy.
The desire for audiobooks began long before the technology for them existed. Which makes sense. Audiobooks are fantastic. In addition to helping out commuters, and giving you something to listen to other than the person next to you breathing when you’re at the gym, audiobooks have another, invaluable function: they are one of the ways that blind people can read.
Back in 1877, Thomas Edison (you may have heard of him) decided that audiobooks would be a pretty good idea, so he decided to invent them. But what he actually invented was the phonograph. Edison envisioned “Phonographic books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” No, you’re not forgetting about the great photograph audiobook revolution of the late 1800s. Phonographs were large, heavy, and expensive. And people could only record a few minutes of audio at a time with them. Not exactly easy. Some people recorded poetry on phonographs, and little snippets from works of literature, but not entire novels. The first actual audiobooks were not recorded until the 1930s, using records.
Since I was a child, I’ve seen audiobooks change from tapes, to CDs, to mp3s. Now they are practically as easy as breathing. And since Edison probably invented a time machine back then, while he was busy inventing everything else, I hope he comes and visits. I hope he sees the dream he had, fulfilled beyond even his wildest imagination.