I own books. I also own a Kindle electronic reader. Each has its particular strengths, and each has obvious weaknesses. I believe they can coexist in the modern world.
Obviously, books were here first. Once Johannes Gutenberg developed movable type, the printed word took off. From the Bible to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” books have affected human lives in profound ways. There is no denying the importance of ink on paper.
When pages are glued together, they are portable and permanent, at least in theory. But, they can be cumbersome to use at times, and they generally require a marking apparatus so the reader can keep track of his or her place if the entire work cannot be finished in one sitting.
Physical books can also be passed around from reader to reader, so, unlike electronic versions, they can be “handed off” multiple times. Think used book stores. Also, traditional reading materials can be accumulated in libraries, where they can be checked out by many patrons at no charge.
My Kindle has several advantages as well. For one, I can read in bed without needing an outside light source, which might keep my spouse awake. This is especially important in the summer, when I generally retire later than my significant other.
Second, if I come across a word I am unfamiliar with, I can simply tap the screen, and the definition will pop up, assuming the term is reasonably common. That feature is certainly more convenient than grabbing a dictionary or “Googling” on a smart phone or computer.
I don’t find that my Kindle stimulates my brain to the point that I have trouble falling asleep. On the contrary, I often drift off with the device still in my hand. After a period of time, it will shut off, thus keeping the battery fresh for the next session.
Another advantage of an electronic reader is the immediacy of delivery of products. If I finish a book on the weekend or even in the evening, I don’t need to leave the house to conjure a replacement. I do not subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service, which offers library-style book loans, so I usually buy the books I read. But, many classics are available for free, including all the works of William Shakespeare. Novels in electronic form are always less expensive than hard copies, even most paperbacks.
The major drawback to the Kindle is the reader’s inability to quickly access a particular section of a book. Since each page is on a separate, single screen shot, one cannot simple thumb through a work in order to reread a section or reconnect with the spot where a character was introduced. I find that to be the most annoying trait.
Of course, there is a bookmark feature, but I don’t want to flag dozens of key moments just in the off chance I want to come back later. On the positive side, every time I “reopen” an electronic book, it returns to the most recent page. That is perhaps the handiest feature.
I have never been concerned that traditional printing will go away, as some predicted when virtual reading material first appeared. Students in my classes complain when they are asked to read on their computers, so I don’t buy the argument that digital consumption of material is popular among young people.
Newspapers certainly still exist, and I can’t imagine a world in which all yearbooks are online only. The autographing of annuals would certainly be problematic, and, while readership of an online newspaper can be tracked, there is no substitute for the visual confirmation provided by one’s witnessing someone paging through a paper-and-ink issue. And, the batteries never go dead on printed material.
Ultimately, there may be a time when all literature is delivered electronically. My ability to predict the future seems less and less accurate. But, for now, I believe the best course of action is to utilize whatever form is best suited for the task, and, most importantly, that we continue to read, whether using cutting edge electronic or traditional formats.
Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro High School.