E-books will never completely replace books on paper

By on November 13, 2012
Cartoon by MCT Campus

What makes a book different from an e-book? What makes the smell of old paper, the strength of a well-made binding, and the sound of a turning page so endearing to so many people? For me, many of my favorite stories take on an insipid, almost barren persona if I try to experience them without the ritualistic sensation that comes with feeling the words I read.

Craig Mod, a writer for CNN.com who has contributed to publications such as New York Times, New Scientist, and Contents Magazine, feels much the same way I do. Mod explains this appreciation with an interesting position, which not only examines societal oddities but explores philosophical posits as well. And while a like-minded aesthete is always a joy to cross, his reaction to the trends of modern communication, namely the tendency for publishers to favor digital material over printed counterparts, seems at times melodramatic and little more than attention-seeking.

According to Mod, the edges of printed materials are what bestow to books and magazines their elusive, unique satisfaction. Mod claims that edges represent an element of reading that the boundless (pun intended) world of digitally presented material lacks: an end. A perspective, one of immediacy, place, and catharsis. Mod summarizes:

“Magazine websites, like the World Wide Web itself, open one up to continuous exploration through links and related content. There’s beauty in that, if one is up for total immersion. But it’s easier to become overwhelmed, or lost.”

As a college student, I cannot help but immediately draw parallels between Mod’s description and the life of a budding scholar. The first steps of collegiate education bring about the overwhelming senses of immersion and downright fear that Mod speaks on, and for nearly identical reasons. Like a difficult curriculum of seemingly impossibly demanding courses, the World Wide Web stands, daunting, as an unconquerable mountain of things to know, memorize, synthesize, retain, and regurgitate. Conversely, like the feeling of “maybe this isn’t impossible, after all” that comes with finishing a section of chemistry homework or drawing a deep, calming breath before taking a difficult history exam, reading from or finishing a book culls the immersion and brings about a steady satisfaction. It feels complete.

Mod shows insight with his take on the different ways to read. He words his stance beautifully, describing the aesthetic pleasure a book possesses in ways I could never quite put into words. However, he begins to veer to the operatic when he begins making implications in response to Newsweek’s decision to cease printing on paper and distribute solely by digital means:

“At the start of 2013, Newsweek joins the legions of other digital-only publishers. We’re losing the paper, the touch and the romanticism of the printed object. But hopefully, we’ll find a way to create new edges.”

Personally, I don’t buy the pessimism. While his “hopefully we’ll find a way to create new edges” does echo some positive outlook, I can’t realistically picture even a moderate take on a totally electronic world. Could I see major newspapers switching to digital? Sure. Could I imagine doctors and scientists all using tablets instead of charts and papers? Most already do. But do I see e-books wiping out Barnes & Noble? Absolutely not.

While naysayers and doomsdayers are positive that the era of “edges” will come to a woeful close, I have faith that the charm and allure of print will outlast the most ardent sweeps of digitization that the modern world can throw at it. Books are as tied to human culture as complex thought. Civilization anchors itself in its capacity to engage people in synergy and commensalism with written language and a way to store that language being an immutable, prerequisite hallmark.

DVDs have replaced videotapes, MP3s have replaced CDs, and in some ways e-books and online databases have replaced paper printing. With all the advances in convenience and efficiency the human race has achieved, however, I absolutely refuse to believe that one day the only way I will be able to experience “The Great Gatsby” will be on a Kindle.

Joseph Shaw
Staff Writer
jshaw6@uab.edu

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  • Heilager

    I dunno about that.

    I’ll give you an example.

    Recently I borrowed a hardback book from a college library; Under The Dome by Stephen King. This particular version was over 1000 pages long and weighed about ten pounds.

    In contrast, my Galaxy Note 2 phone weights about a pound and is much easier to read than that monster book.

    I do not miss paper books. I can read on my phone under just about any conditions, Not so with a paper based book.

  • http://twitter.com/Kwei_Quartey Kwei Quartey

    I worry about Barnes & Noble, where people go to browse and drink coffee, and not necessarily to buy books. In some areas, a pbook can esthetically beat an ebook. Recently I created a coffee table book via iPhoto in honor of my mother, using scanned photographs over the years since her childhood. The assembly on iPhoto is quite easy, and once it’s done, you can order any number of hardcover copies from Apple. I ordered the largest version, 13 x 11, and when it arrived I was stunned by how lovely it was in paper form. This is something that visitors pick up from the coffee table and become absorbed in as they turn the pages looking at the images.

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