Reading In The Digital Age – Why I Still Prefer Traditional Books

Over the years we have seen a rapid change and evolution in technology and how we consume media. Vinyl records evolved into cassettes, which later graduated to CDs, and now we have digital music files. We carry these small files onto an mp3 player, which is pretty much dominated by Apple’s iPod. Has there really been any other mp3 player to compete with the iPod? What makes the iPod a nifty little device is the ability to add and remove songs whenever you like.

TV isn’t what it used to be. Before we had VCRs to record our favorite TV show by setting it on a timer. These days you have TiVo or the internet’s streaming services which posts an episode online within the next day of the show’s air date. You can see we live in an age of instant gratification. You want something now? You won’t be waiting too long or at all to get it.

kindle_readerAlong with these updates you have books going digital. E-readers and tablets like Kindle and iPads have made it easier to carry books you are currently reading by simply downloading and uploading them onto these devices. Gone are those days when we used to have to lug heavy books on the train or bus. With the electronic copy of the book, packing your bag has never been easier. It also reduces the amount of shelf space a book takes up at a given time in your bedroom or study.

I do like the benefits of having e-books, but when it comes to reading, I like to hold an actual book in my hands. I know many think their Kindles, Nooks, and iPads are a godsend and it doesn’t give you the headache of figuring out where to store books in your house or apartment anymore. It makes having to carry extra stuff in your bag less of a nuisance too. We also have the argument of saving a lot of trees in the process by not having to mass produce all the paper used to make these books.

Call me old fashioned, but holding a digital download of a book that’s on a tablet or e-reader device doesn’t feel the same. I love the smell of fresh paper when a book has been newly pressed. I also love owning a book for a long time and it starts getting that old, aged paper smell. It feels like coming home after being away for years. I like the action of actually turning a page and feeling it between my fingertips. I also like placing my favorite book on a shelf with a happy sigh after finishing a really good story. Holding an e-book on a tablet feels…cold and impersonal.BKS_l_BooksByTheFoot

Sure, an e-book is beautifully presented in high-resolution, the black text pops out in strong and striking bolds, and it’s sort of cool to have an entire library just within your fingertips. Still, an e-book lacks the romance of reading a book. I always find it really appealing when I see paintings or photographs of people holding an actual book in their hands or having it laid face down on their lap as they sit outside on a beautiful spring day under a shady tree. If you need to hold your place in a book until you can come back to it later, you have a variety of bookmarks to choose from to hold your place. I have a ton of bookmarks I have collected over the years and they have held the place of more than one book many times over for me. I’m also a fan of finding a flower or leaf you picked up on your day out from somewhere and pressing it into your book as a comforting memory of that day.

I own an iPad and until now I haven’t really bought any e-books to take on the go. Maybe the only time I have bothered to read an e-book was recently when I saw on Twitter that the book publisher HarperCollins offered a free e-book download of Neil Gaiman’s short story How to Talk to Girl’s at Parties as part of their marketing strategy to include a preview of his newest book. It was an interesting experience to read my first e-book on the iPad. The high-resolution presentation of the book made it look really nice on the screen and they replicate the experience of turning a page in animation form, but I can’t say I would trade a physical book for an e-book.

I am becoming aware of the problem of owning too many books, as I am running out of space to put them. I’m hoping one day when I have a place of my own I can have a bigger space with a larger book shelf to keep all my favorite books stacked upright with their colorful spines showing. I realize my biggest problem with collecting books and keeping them is when your collection also includes a lot of manga. My large collection of shojo manga is getting quite unmanageable with my lack of shelf space. I have come to accept that a compromise needs to be made. I can continue collecting the physical copies of manga series I do have, but any new series I want to read and collect may have to be the starting point for a brand new digital collection.

Ultimately, when it comes to the e-books vs. traditional books debate, I will be among those who can’t part with my beautiful book collection. I do see how helpful and convenient the age of digital books can be when you are a collector of geeky things, like comics and manga. By having some of my books go digital, maybe my shelf space can finally breathe a sigh of relief. What better books to go digital than comics and manga? Images look so much crisper and vivid on an iPad.

Besides, what would we do without traditional books if everything went digital? I find it hard to imagine a world without a good, hefty book being held in your hands or cradled in your arms. No more libraries? No more bookstores? Inconceivable!

15 thoughts on “Reading In The Digital Age – Why I Still Prefer Traditional Books”

  1. I get print when I can, but it’s just not in my budget. E-books are so much cheaper, especially indie books–who often have print counterparts, but I only spring for their paperbacks if I can win them in a contest or something. Otherwise, I go for e-books because I can buy books like candy.

    1. I understand how e-books would be attractive in how quickly you can buy a book within one click and not have to wait for it to be shipped to you or having to go to a local bookstore and buying it there. It’s also true how the digital download tends to be much cheaper than a paperback or hardcover copy.

      Still, I like being able to own the physical copy of a book. I’m not opposed to e-books all together. If anything, e-books are a good way of supporting self-published authors who have a hard time getting their book published through traditional publishers. If it’s something I want to read and I can’t get it anywhere else, then I’m all for getting a digital copy.

  2. I love traditional books, too, for many of the same reasons. If I could add to this, I’d also say that I very much enjoy the experience of selecting a book from one of my shelves. The feel, the weight, the texture. Sometimes, I’ll touch a book and its entire contents will spring to life in my head like an old friend. Having it in my hand, this singular book, helps me to concentrate on it. I’m not thinking about what else I could be reading or aware that I’ve another book in my hands that I might enjoy more than this. It’s just me, the book, a lamp and silence.

    On another, more practical, hand, books last a lot longer than downloads. I’ve lost reams of digital information between hardware upgrades and DRM. It’s a sad, unfortunate truth. Also, if I spill my water on a book, I’ve got to wait for it to dry. If I soak my Kindle, well, that’s another story. I bought a copy of Proteus Manifest used years ago. The cover was tattered then and it’s more worn now than it every was, but I know, without a doubt, that that book will be with me in ten years, perfectly readable, and absolutely engaging. Some pages will have memories stored in the stains they hold. A wrinkled page from water, a smear mark from a nose-bleed. Not always altogether pleasant memories, but a chronicle of my life.

    My first Kindle stopped working after a year. Thus, I love books. +1

    1. I love what you said about owning the physical copy of a book, “Some pages will have memories stored in the stains they hold.” This idea of a book being marked by history and age based on how much a reader has loved/used the book is something you really can’t get from a digital book. I know when I happen to take a book off my shelf and thumb through the pages, I see old notes I may have taken in high school or college still forever imprinted on the margins. It’s kind of nice to go back and see what your thought processes were when you were much younger.

      I also worry about losing the digital copies as you mentioned. I hate to buy something and then somehow lose it because of a hard drive failure or I accidentally delete it off my computer. I really don’t want to have to buy it again even if it’s cheap. It is possible to lose physical copies of a book if somehow your house were to burn down or something like that, but the possibility is a little less likely compared to your electronic device giving out on you and you don’t have another copy saved somewhere else.

  3. I agree. I’d love to change over my book collection to digital for no other reason than the amount of space they take up (2 bookcases of novels, and 2 book cases of comic trade paperbacks/manga) but I just can’t give up my physical copies. Although, it is becoming a chore to lug them around every time I move.

    1. This is why I think e-books are at least good for the comic book/manga collectors out there. My manga collection is much harder to store than a regular book. At least regular books are usually a standalone title without an ongoing series format like comic books. I’m also more selective about the books I buy. If I’m not sure if I’ll love the book, but I still wish to read it then I can always borrow it from the library.

  4. I moved to digital only about a year and a half ago and haven’t looked back. Beyond the emotional attachment to books and print media, it’s just so much more convenient to have an ereader.

    1. I get the convenience aspect. Sometimes when I buy a book and I realize it’s 300 pages or more, I tend to not carry that with me when I’m on the go. Mainly because the book is too fat to put in my bag or it’s too heavy to bother carrying around for the day.

  5. Simpleek, What you wrote here is exactly what I feel. Maybe I’ll reblogged your post later. May I ? I went to our local library to buy used books a few weeks ago. The feeling of whatever it was was simply overwhelming.

    1. Of course you can reblog! I’m actually flattered to know you want to share this on your own blog. 🙂 I do love the feeling of stepping inside a bookstore or library. The feeling of seeing thousands of books on shelves waiting to be brought home with you is a euphoric feeling.

  6. This is such a great post! I’m really on the fence when it comes to books. My husband collects them and we’re well on our way to having our own library. But I’ve gotten away from buying actual books in favor of e-books in recent years. Taking my Kindle on the go is just so easy and convenient. The only books I buy now are large-format art/history/literature books. If I want to pick up the latest novel, I’ll look to e-books first.

    By the way, I love the point you made about pressed flowers in books. At my work, we often come across this in old books, scrapbooks, etc. They’re such sweet and unique mementos, and I can’t help but always wonder what the flowers meant to those people from ages past and why they saved them. It’s certainly one form of remembrance that will never happen with an e-reader!

    1. I know what you mean! I like my iPad and e-books do look really nice on them, but I really can’t get away from this urge to just buy the paperback copy almost every time. I don’t know if I’ll change my mind as time wears on, but I would go digital for some books based on space issues more than anything.

      I would love to be at your work and discover those dried up flowers or other little forgotten mementos in those old books! 🙂 I find those simple things such a beautiful discovery and it adds its own little story of why it’s there. Was it from a treasured lover? Did a dear friend pick it for them on a nice summer day? All those possible stories are endless and truly romantic! You really can’t add those little objects in an e-reader. I guess you can stick it somewhere on the e-reader’s protective cover, but it’s really not the same.

  7. I wouldn’t worry about the death of the physical book. E-books, while convenient, are still not the most affordable, the most accessible, or the best learning tools.

    I have a rule for e-books on my Kindle. I only buy something that is $9.99 or less, and often times, that is not the case. This is also only if I really want the book. So resorting to this means that the library didn’t have it and I didn’t have the motivation to go to the nearest book store (which honestly, I have no idea where it is.)

    A now, consider for a moment that there are still many, many, people in countries all over the world that do not have access to the internet in any way whatsoever. Living in America, or Canada, or even London, it can be easy for people to think that everyone can have a computer or a smart phone and an e-reader. But still, these technologies are expensive and get replaced so damn quickly. I made this gorgeous computer about a year and a half ago. It cost me $800, which many people would say is a “computer on a budget.” People will spend more to get a brand computer, or to make their own, only to have it be out dated in less than a year. The same is true of phones, and of e-readers. Sure, my Kindle works fine and I got it for cheap, but there are better ones out there that I want and cannot afford. So this whole affordable, accessible technology bit is a big deal.

    Lastly, an e-book can be a good learning tool for some people, and for others it cannot. I see this first hand as I work at an elementary school. Some children there have an easier time learning with the use of technology, and others still do not. They need to feel the book in their hand, turn the pages, hold the words down with their fingers. Many tablets don’t clean well after being touched by fingers and need protector sheets, which are a huge waste of resources.

    Where I live in Portland, the library system is a lynch pin in every neighborhood, as well. I know for a fact our libraries are going nowhere because every time there is a vote to secure money for them, the vote passes close to 100%. I realize that not all library systems have such a great relationship with the people they serve, but I like to hope that some day they will all be as awesome as the one here. It all comes down to the people, really. So if you want your library to be better, speak up.

    My point is that there are still too many factors working against technology being as common as we see it in sci-fi novels. Perhaps some day it will be. We will be born with a robotic nurse and have computer chips in our heads allowing the government to watch our every move. But this is likely going to happen long after you and I are gone. Technology and the world have a long way to go before The Singularity occurs.

    1. You make really good points. Not everyone in the world has easy access to this technology or the internet. Where we live we tend to take these conveniences for granted when someone in a third world country will either have limited to no access to the internet. With these problems, how can they even access or much less afford a fancy e-reader or tablet?

      Buying a Kindle or iPad costs a good amount of money to get, and as you said, not everyone has the money to get one. The money you’re spending on these devices can easily be used for something more important. And why buy a book when borrowing a book from the library is cheaper and free?

      I don’t believe physical books will die out either, or at least not right away. If the day does come, it may very well not be in our lifetime anyway.

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