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Digital Reading in a Post-Apocalyptic World

The Mayan calendar ends in only 13 days, and as everyone knows that is a sure sign of a coming apocalypse. Are you prepared for keeping up your ebook habit in the aftermath?

I’m still getting ready myself, but I thought I’d take a few minutes today and lay out my thoughts.

First, internet access will likely disappear after the fall of civilization, so whatever digital content you have on hand will be the sum total of your reading material. Sure, there’s always a chance that you might be able to loot another ereader, and there’s a chance you might be able to barter an exchange of ebook files, but there’s really no way to guarantee either situation will present itself.

That is why I would suggest making multiple backups of your ebook library on SD cards, microSD cards, or whatever removable media works with your preferred ereader. In fact, I would back up an ebook library on both types of cards.

And I would not plan on keeping paper books as a fall back; for all you know you might need to burn them some cold night.

Second, manufacturing will probably also die out as the survivors of the apocalypse struggle to provide basic necessities. At the very least, it seems highly unlikely that any freight shipments would make it out of China, so it would be a good idea to have backup ereaders on hand just in case.

Here is why the multiple backups on multiple card types are a good idea. For all you know, the next ereader you loot might not take the whichever card you were using with the last ereader.

Third, power will also be an issue. Now would be a good time to start planning on alternative power sources, whether wind, solar, water.

Your first thought might be to add a solar panel to an ereader. I wouldn’t; a panel the size of your average ereader is not big enough to provide enough of a charge. Also, if the ereader dies your work will be in vain. No, it’s better to look for more general solutions to the power issue.

I myself live not too far north of a couple nuclear power plants, so assuming that a minimum of order is maintained and the plants themselves are not destroyed I should still have power – so long as the now-elderly plants continue to function. And if the nuke plants are destroyed, there is an upside. Once I glow in the dark, I won’t need a light for my ereader anymore.

But even I have started working on backup plans for a power supply. Wind and water aren’t serious possibilities here. I’m looking into solar panels, but there seems to be a run on the limited supply as people stock up in anticipation of the end of the world. That leads me to my plan B.

A generator outputs power when it is rotated. It doesn’t matter whether it is pushed by wind, water, or muscle; it just needs to turn. That means that a fixed generator can be run off of dogs, cattle, or even people running in some type of hamster wheel.

The people part looks to be the best option. Chains are readily available, and manacles can easily be manufactured. I fully expect to have an available supply of labor, and even after I factor in the cost of hiring the guards I should still be able to power my ereader and whatever else I need to run.

Yes, this will be brutal on the slave labor, but sacrifices need to be made in order to maintain a bare minimum of civilization.  I’m sure they’ll understand.

So there you have it, folks. I have accounted for content, hardware to read it on, and power to run the ereader.

Have I missed anything? If you can think of an improvement, please feel free to leave a comment.

P.S. In my next post on surviving the post-apocalyptic world, I will show how two problems like an excess population and a food shortage can have complimentary solutions. Stay tuned.

images by kevin dooley, C. G. P. GreybenwattsPaul J Everett


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Howard December 8, 2012 um 8:37 pm

"Have I missed anything?"


I’ll bet you (or anyone else stupid enough to take the bet) $50,000 that the world will NOT end this year on December 21st. Or, for that matter, on any other specific date you (or anyone else — Harold Camping, are you reading this?) care to bet on.

Any takers?

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2012 um 8:47 pm

You must be new to this blog, otherwise you would be familiar with my sense of humor.


fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 10:13 pm

You may need to resize the "humor" tag under the headlines to 72 points in flashing neon red. 🙂

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2012 um 10:55 pm

I would have thought the reference to cannibalism was enough to clue people in, but I guess I was wrong.

Jon Jermey December 8, 2012 um 8:57 pm

You haven’t mentioned the content that you plan to read, but obviously books like Wilderness Survival for Dummies, The Original Roadkill Cookbook and How to Kill With Your Bare Hands are going to be at a premium. It’s probably best to secure your copies now before the rush.

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2012 um 9:14 pm


You’re right, I forgot to mention the specific content you’ll need. Here’s a few items to add to the list:

  • To Serve Man
  • Seven Skills of Highly Successful Pirates

CJJ December 8, 2012 um 10:39 pm

I would add Elmer Keiths' autobiography "Hell, I was there!" But sadly it’s hardcover only and long out of print. Elmer would’ve be right at home in a post-apocalyptic America.

Thomas December 9, 2012 um 1:17 am

BTW, it turns out that the Mayan calendar didn’t include leap years, so the world actually ended several months ago, but no one noticed.

p01 December 9, 2012 um 8:29 am

It would be funny and humorous if the world would not be on the brink of collapse since 2007 when it almost went over the cliff. The industrial civilization has been running on impossible to pay debt ever since it has finished destroying its capital (mid 70s), and while it may make it to 2013, it most certainly won’t be able to make it past 2013 in its current arrangement.
So, yes, I am thinking about how I will run my e-reading devices and very low power electronics after the financial implosion happens. Probably more people paying attention to what happens in the world right now, should also:

Gary December 9, 2012 um 10:23 am

I actually built a solar cell powered USB recharger. The solar cell is only 3.5 by 6 inches. If you leave it in the sun for a few hours, it will charge up a couple of AA size rechargeable flashlight batteries. The batteries then provide power to a USB socket that can be used to recharge an ebook reader, a cell phone, or anything else that can be charged from a USB port.

I did this to see if I could do it, not because I fear the end of the world is coming.

Parts and instructions are available from

Note that Brown Dog sells two different circuits to bump up the 3 volts from the batteries up to the 5 volts required for USB output. The cheap one is $6 and the better one is $9. They recommend using the better one for any Apple devices, which I suspect are more picky about getting the voltage exactly right. I used the better one, and it works fine with my Sony ebook reader.

My other advice is to buy the entire kit from Brown Dog. I thought that I could get simple stuff like the rechargeable batteries cheaper locally, and not have to pay shipping. I was wrong. It cost more to buy batteries from a local store than it would have to buy from Brown Dog.

Robert Nagle December 9, 2012 um 12:52 pm

I seem to recall that there was a solar-powered charger for one of the ebook devices. Shame that it didn’t take off. (I mean, how much energy does an e-ink device really need?)

chuckf1 December 9, 2012 um 11:18 pm

Nate: In the post-Mayan-apolcalyptic world, provided that some form of e-reader commerce survives, do you think the price of e-books will increase or decrease?

Nate Hoffelder December 10, 2012 um 12:18 am

It would be a seller’s market.

Sweetpea December 10, 2012 um 2:41 am

Hmm, I do have a lot of books, but they’re mostly in my external HDD and PC. And those require a bit more power than my e-ink device. But, as I live in a rural community, those cows of my neighbour could be put to good use and a large powerwheel could be implemented.

But, we’ve got enough gas in the ground. And that wouldn’t be exported anymore, but would be used to power that gas electric plant. And that is sitting 12km away from us. Downside, if that blows, I wouldn’t glow in the dark…

SteveH December 10, 2012 um 11:49 am

Here is a great comparison chart of avail. small solr charger systems (for any USB devices):

It’s at Bootstrap Solar, a small comapny started by an ex-Google coder and writer of the interesting blog,

Greg M. December 10, 2012 um 12:27 pm

Well, my money is on the Outlook 08/31/4500 end of the world prediction.

If that doesn’t pan out, there is the death of the sun in 4 billion years.

Let’s not forget the collision with the Andromeda galaxy afterwards.

And then there’s the heat death of the universe. My eReaders are surely toast, sooner or later. Maybe I should stick with paper.

» Random links Caveat Lector December 11, 2012 um 9:21 am

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