education, technology, and everything else

The Decline of Books

Posted by Miranda on January 23, 2007

Will Richardson posted on his blog today something that really made me think. The post: was about a news story that Google is putting more than one million books from the University of Texas online. There’s a lot of related quotes concerning this. Mr. Richardson says he loves to read books in digital form, so that he can annotate them and so forth. He seems to be all for digitizing books, and points out that they are still books, the books are words, not the bindings they are in. I suppose he is right about that.

Then he said the thing that made me think: “Again, I think the jury is out as to whether this direction is good or bad…it’s just different. Will applying our cultural biases on our kids serve them most effectively in the future?”

Because it is a cultural bias. I love books. I love the way they feel, the way they smell. The smell of a new book is very different than an old one. Opening a book that’s never been read, a new book from the store is a tactile experience. Reading one of my father’s books makes me feel close to him. I know he touched it, that he loved it.

My son loves books too, he is a book collector. He buys and sells antiquarian books on eBay but some books he would never sell even if it brought in enough money to get a new Wii, which he wants desperately!

He does not like reading things off the computer screen. He and his best friend found a book online, a fantasy, that they loved and printed it out because they wanted to hold it, to read it in bed, to feel the paper.

So I will try not to allow my cultural biases to show. But in my opinion, reading a book onscreen is not at all the same, will never be the same. Maybe it is if you read only to absorb the information contained in the words. But if you want to experience the world in the book… well you’ve got to have the book. A paper book, with binding. Preferably leather with gilding and tooling and all the rest. A book isn’t just information. It’s a book.

So I take it back. He is wrong. A book is more than words.


2 Responses to “The Decline of Books”

  1. I think there was probably someone who had the same sentiment about color television and digital photography. I think that a lot of our distaste for reading books off a screen is the way that text is laid out and that we already have to read so much off the screen that we want to give our eyes a break.

    There was probably someone who said to his coworker, “this book is definitely interesting, but a scroll isn’t just text, it’s a scroll.

  2. Miranda said

    Oh, I know you have a point. A good one. But my son (16) says reading things onscreen makes his eyes hurt after a while and I find that to be true too.
    And you can’t take a laptop into the bathtub or haul it out for the 10 minutes you wait for a bus, either. I did check out an ebook at borders the other day and that you could haul out while waiting for the bus I suppose.
    But I am a Luddite about many things digital which is a little odd as I make my living in IT. I still prefer ra rotary phone for instance.

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