In the article “Kindle Vs. Books: The Dead Trees Society” by Sara Barbour, the author expresses her reluctance to switch to an e-reader, even when one was offered to her as a gift, free of charge. The reason for this is not due to usability issues, or lack of features; in fact she mentions she’s never even tried one. It seems to be a romantic resistance to a world where books are more readily available in a digital format, rather than the tried and true “dead tree” medium.
On the other hand, she goes on to opine that she just “doesn’t want to be tempted” with the prospect of carrying around several books at a time on the airplane or at the coffee shop. To me, this idea makes no sense; to deprive yourself of something because you might find it more convenient than the alternative seems a bit crazy.
She goes on to explain that paper books have a personality; they can be signed by an author, and develop signs of wear and tear as they are opened and enjoyed time and time again. This is absolutely true, and I don’t disagree as I have my own vast collection of titles with dog-eared pages and well-worked spines. And like the author, I’m also concerned about the environment, and have many titles on my shelf that I’ve read only once and never picked up again. How many trees could have been spared if I had read that text in a digital format?
The Best of Both Worlds
To my mind, this is not a matter of choosing one or the other.
Traditional books will be a part of our culture for many years to come. Some people will always prefer to read off of paper, and many authors find the relationship with their pen or typewriter provides a different kind of connection than when they sit down at their keyboard. Personally, I think the two mediums compliment each other; I will often scribble ideas in my classic Moleskine notebook as the inspiration hits me, annotating and doodling as I go along. Eventually, these ideas will become documents, blog posts, or entire websites.
If anything, in a dystopian future where the traditional book is rare, the value of quality binding and typesetting should be even more appreciated. For example, a single copy of a first-edition printing of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is currently available on Ebay for approximately $4,403 Canadian dollars. Serious book-collectors are a passionate bunch, and will clearly go to great lengths to keep the written word alive.
Just as I can now carry dozens of full-length music albums in my pocket (on my iPod), I look forward to having hundreds of books at my immediate disposal. The printed word has indeed changed the course of human history, and it will continue to do so for many years to come.