“So what do you think?” “Do you prefer ‘books’, made of paper and ink, or reading machines made of steel, glass, silicon chips, and pixellated pixels?”
Consider the book. It has extraordinary staying power. Ever since the invention of the codex sometime close to the birth of Christ, it has proven to be a marvelous machine—great for packaging information, convenient to thumb through, comfortable to curl up with, superb for storage, and remarkably resistant to damage. It does not need to be upgraded or downloaded, accessed or booted, plugged into circuits or extracted from webs. Its design makes it a delight to the eye. Its shape makes it a pleasure to hold in the hand. And its handiness has made it the basic tool of learning for thousands of years. (Robert Darnton, The Case for Books)
Read this essay. It says what I’m trying to say, in a much better way.
First, let me state that I love the advantages that technology affords us. Especially the technology known as the ” internet”, the one that Al Gore invented. Like all things made by men, it’s not perfect in any way, as we know the ‘net’ is both a doorway to many blessings and the portal to the gates of hell – leading many to soul destroying’ things. But no one can deny that it has opened a wealth of information and ease of searching to all of us. In fact, right now, I’m writing and expressing myself via this post to thousands of people – to anyone on the planet who can read it. I’m self-publishing. My audience is the world! Imagine that. A decade ago, this would have never been possible. Just minutes ago, I read an article online, saw references to books in that article that I wanted to read, but did not want to buy yet, so I pulled up my local library internet catalog, and ‘ordered’ the books which will be conveniently delivered to my local branch for me to pick up within a few days… all of that accomplished in about two minutes. Let me say right up front that I’m not a complete tech-hater, and gizmo basher, I’m not a ‘head in the sand’ anti-technology Luddite, but I’m also not a “let’s worship the next app, gadget, gizmo or tech toy that comes out’ consumer either. I, along with many other people, have a real gut feeling, like the citizens of Troy should have had, when they saw the Greeks bearing a gift of a large Horse sitting outside their gates. A Trojan horse of similar proportions is sitting outside our gates and we’re joyfully and mindlessly bringing it into our lives and what was a seemingly nice gift from the defeated Greeks, became the death of Troy and in a similar fashion could it be, and can it be, that the demise of our culture might be equally destroyed in our own times?
But when it comes to the experience of reading, let’s say substantive reading, pleasurable reading, the kind of reading that really matters – which do you prefer? A book… the kind made with paper, ink, and artisans who craft a physical object, or a screen – a machine? When it comes to the message, does the medium really matter? Like many experts, I say that the medium does matter, and that the medium is what’s messing us up. This is a huge conversation right now in my industry of book publishing as we try to figure out all the creative new ways that people want to interact with our content and all the ways in which we need to provide that content. In the end, and in all honesty, publishers really don’t care what method or medium you use of engaging our content as long as there is a profitable revenue and cash flow stream involved. I wish I could be more philanthropic with our industries motives, but cash is still king in publishing.
So which is better?
A Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony gadget gizmo with unlimited “cloud” coverage to hold my 2,000 books in a virtual library up in the sky… or the old classic. The cloth bound, stitched, acid paper, and ink alternative? Well, for me (I know this may surprise you) it’s simple: Give me a book any day. An incarnational, sensory laden, creatively created art form… let me savor it… with human sight and touch. Let me feel it, and smell it, for a good book has a certain ‘odor’ (as weird as that sounds) a wonderful olfactory experience that triggers emotions much like the proverbial ‘new car smell’ that people so often love and go into debt to get. Give me a book, and give me a shelf in my home where I can place it… where I know where it is, where I never need to fear that a “virus” or a hardware crash can wipe out my “collection” of books in the cloud.
Here is a provocative essay on why books matter, and why they will remain so important for the shaping of character, intellect, culture and worldview. And why, despite what the technocrats might say, that the Medium does matter.
And for those who love books, real ones that you can hold… Give Eighth Day Books a look.
Here’s is Robert Darnton speaking at Harvard University.