If he's on public transport, same thing. <' />

When Sherman Young snuggles under the bedclothes to read a good book, he's reading off a small screen.

If he's on public transport, same thing.

The amiable doctor of media and culture from Macquarie University in Sydney reckons reading books by computer is the future.

Never, I say, and he says I am probably one of those people who resisted getting a cellphone.

Hmm, true. I confess I resisted for a long time, then when I got one I wondered how I'd ever lived without it.

"Ding," he says. "There you go."

Young, who was attending a conference in Auckland on the future of books, reckons pretty soon even the Luddites among us will wonder why we baulked at reading a good book digitally.

The very thought raises hackles.

"I would rather kill myself than read a book by computer," said a colleague when the topic was raised in the office sparking a loud debate.

Oh yes, the colleague said, it would be a cold day in hell when that happened.

Only one colleague, and an older one at that, actually wanted one of the new-fangled devices on the market (though not freely available in New Zealand yet) which allow you to download almost any number of books and read them from a screen.

The first colleague, who incidentally has embraced ipods and Google, tried to explain why reading a book with actual pages and a cover was different and how reading a book digitally will never cut the mustard.

For him, the reason boils down to the vibe of the thing. It's about the whole "experience" of a book. It's the way a book smells and feels. It's the way you turn the page.

It's a tactile, sensory thing.

Dr Young has heard all this before and laughs in a friendly, just-you-wait-and-see kind of way.

He has written his own book, called The Book is Dead: Long Live the Book. It's on his iPhone, all 180-odd pages of it.

He touches the screen to turn a page and glides back and forth like an expert, jumping to wherever he wants to go.

He also has an ebook reading gadget, a Sony Portable Reader. It's a slim little number about the size of a small paperback tucked inside a protective cover which kind of gives the look - if you look very quickly - of an actual book. You push a button to turn the page.

Amazon has one called the Kindle, though Young prefers the iPhone to either of them and predicts in the not-too-distant future most cellphones will be like iPhones, where you can connect to the internet and surf for anything you like, including the latest blockbuster book.

He does understand the resistance, though. Technological change is easy, he says, but cultural change is hard.

"I don't deny that there will be a lot of people that will find it very difficult to make the step. Sometimes it's just a step, though. "Every time there has been a format shift there have been people who say, 'You're prising that 12-inch vinyl record out of my hand over my dead body'."

And don't forget that just like cellphones, ebook readers will improve in leaps and bounds and become even more user-friendly, he says.

Asked if he is means we will lose the print book, he says: "Oh, we will, eventually. But probably not in my lifetime."

So the day will come where you might buy a coffee table book as a gift for Father's Day, but if you want the latest Dan Brown novel, you'll download it and not have to worry about putting it on the bookshelf.

But people love bookshelves, I insist.

Absolutely, he says. "People loved CDs, too. Kids today wouldn't know what a CD was."

Young says we always underestimate how long these things take and their impact when they do catch on. "It will take many years to be a success, that's all I'm willing to say."

Already, the book is suffering. Bookshops are closing and people just don't read books the way they once did, he says.

Printing books isn't cheap and neither is shipping them around the world.

Downloading a book is more environmentally sound, and technically should be cheaper.

The book industry isn't over, Young says, it's just changing in the same way the music industry was revolutionised with the arrival of downloadable music.

"It didn't kill the music industry, it killed the music publishers. There's a difference. Musicians are thriving."

Bookshops will have to adapt as well. Young talks about a bookshop in California that saw the writing on the wall and got itself a liquor licence, halved its stock and ran regular reading and book club events to keep going.

"So it's about rethinking what a bookshop is and how a bookshop engages.

"It's about drawing readers in and engaging people who read. It's not necessarily about selling books."

On the way back to the office I step down the narrow staircase to Rare Books, an institution of historic books located in High St for the past 27 years.

Here, you can enjoy the print book "experience".

You can smell the aged leather, wander around and touch the Journals of Captain James Cook, Volumes I and II, stroke the covers, smell the mustiness.

When I say to Rare Books owner Anah Dunsheath that, apparently, ebooks are the way we will read books in the future, she replies: "Arrgh! I won't be."

Dunsheath is a true believer in the book "experience".

She knows that rather than going to museums you can look up early manuscripts online - but, though that might work for reference needs, it doesn't work as a "pleasurable thing".

She loves the bindings of her old books, the toolings, and the history the books tell, the memories of people who touched them before.

"We've got a book signed by Elizabeth Fry [the early English feminist and social reformer]. So then you're thinking, 'Hang on, I'm touching a page that this very famous person has touched', and it suddenly comes to life.

"You've got this real artefact that's a whole, living thing."

You can't get that from a computer screen.