Friday, May 29, 2009

Vote For Books: Screens Versus Real Paper

Dan Brown at the London Free Press recently wondered about reading and books in his column. On his blog he solicited feedback about people's reading habits. The first comment on it, by John L., was: "I read the internet. Books are so boring."

Which got me thinking; do people really think this now? Are there people - mostly young, but old too - who never read anything on paper? We get a lot of our information off a computer screen, sure, but now there's also the Amazon Kindle for portable reading of digitized books. As the Kindle gains in popularity, and seems to be more comfortable and convenient than carrying around a book, why the hell do we need paper any more?


I'll tell you why. Because a .pdf doesn't include the feeling of running your fingertips over the smooth  embossed cover of a brand new hardcover book, nor the satisfying crunch of bending the spine for the very first time. The 1000th download of a digital book, wafting through the air into a device's wi-fi antenna, doesn't carry with it that musty old paper smell, nor contain the stains and hand-written scribbles of the book's mysterious previous owners. Clicking through the list of bestsellers in an online store just doesn't match the experience of navigating the narrow book-lined crevices of City Lights.

And sure, books take up a lot of room, but isn't it room well-taken? A bookshelf is like a monument to a your history, each book a deservedly heavy reminder of something you devoted many hours to. A relationship can begin and end in the time it takes to finish a good-sized book, and can't spending that much time with it affect your life just as much? And speaking of relationships, I recall a friend of mine saying she only really became interested in her long-term boyfriend after perusing his bookshelf and liking what it revealed about him. Could clicking down the list on his Kindle have had the same impact?

Oh but maybe I'm just getting old, resisting change for the overall better by holding onto the few minor benefits that would be lost. I said some of the same things about CDs, but I rarely buy them any more. Yeah but no, it'll take more time and technological breakthroughs to convince me about books. Maybe a musty smell emitter.

I leave you with these references:


 
[^ creepy as hell]
 





[This last one is definitely my favourite. The God-given imperative to READ has allowed these kids to fly into the clouds, but they're still just as bored and unimpressed as ever. Maybe this poster is why the print industry is dying.]

22 comments:

Cedric said...

You know what? If your blog readers/twitter stream is anything like mine you're preaching to the converted.

We love the internet, but can't let go of our books.

Jennifer said...

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T CRACK THE SPINES!

I cry when people bend their books backwards. When I finish a book, you can't tell it's been read.

I don't know how other people experience reading. But when I read, I don't *read*. I have no concept of the words, it's more like watching TV in my head. I can't do that reading the computer. Too much extraneous stuff I think.

Phronk said...

Cedric: Probably true for most, but I think this John L. character is on my Twitter, so, not all. :)

Jen: But how can you *read* by peeking into the little crack you can open the book by without affecting the spine? I like a book to look well-used when I'm done with it. I probably shouldn't even tell you that I dog-ear pages with particularly good passages.

I used to not see the words so much, but now I do pay attention to them more. I think it's a side effect of increasing my writing.

John Leschinski said...

I can't stand reading books on paper, nor having to write on paper. There is no point in carrying around books, paper and pens when I have the same if not better functionality on more then one device.

Harry said...

What he said... There's no need to have an entire shelf full of books when something small can hold them all in digital format. The Kindle isn't the answer though. Its too expensive and nobody outside the gadget / tech / Oprah community knows what it is. Plus its really expensive.

I don't read books. Mostly because the term "reading" refers to getting involved into a long fiction story. I'd rather watch a good movie, listen to a podcast, or read my RSS -- items that (I feel) are more interesting.

Gonna try out Stanza for the iPhone this weekend to read a Dexter (Showtime series) book that seemed interesting. We'll see how that goes...

Phronk said...

Told you so, Cedric. :)

To each his own I guess. I just take issue with words like "the same or better functionality", or "no need for a shelf". Maybe to you guys this is true, but I just listed some functionality and need that is not fulfilled (and probably never will be) by digital reading.

It's a value judgment whether it's worth losing these in favour of other conveniences, though.

Oh and Sachz, I just started reading Dead Until Dark, which is what True Blood on HBO is based on. Similar idea as Dexter...which I hope to hear how you like.

John Leschinski said...

The only need for a document is for the text to be well laid out and legible. The format is a preferance. If they stopped printing books you'd stop reading?

Phronk said...

Depends what you mean by "need"; not many books will kill you if you don't read them.

But in the sense of getting the full pleasure out of a book, for me that takes more than legibility.

I wouldn't stop reading if they stopped printing, but I'd enjoy it less, and if I have a choice I'll keep print books around. That's all I'm saying.

Imogen89 said...

Ha I am the same with ruining books that I read... I turn down the corners and crack the spine and read in the bath so the paper gets crinkly from steam... A computer can never replace a book though. Computers aren't tangible in the same way as books are. A book feels like something which is speacial and belongs to you, and you can keep them forever and find them again a few years later and remember how great it was to read. A digital book is just a file.. and I personally just can't concentrate on reading something off a screen.

As for movies being better than books...The amount of people who complain about every movie version of a book is a testament to the fact that movies just can't reach the same level of awesomeness that a book can when mixed with a good imagination.

Mr. Wisdumb said...

As an owner of the Sony E-Reader (a Kindle competitor), I can say that reading the screen is almost identical to reading a book. The e-ink technology is really amazing and you can't judge it by trying to compare the reading experience from your IPhone or Touch or other smart phone device.

I still love paper books, but I really like my E-Reader.

Anyway, the reason for this comment though is that all the ads/posters you posted promote "reading" not the idea of print on paper.

Phronk said...

Imogen: Totally. Books can have an impact movies just can't. Even TV shows, which can be longer and just as detailed, just can't match book-guided imagination.

Wisdumb: Yeah, well, I don't see the kids or lizards or snails reading E-books.

I do want to try those out though. I can see a lot of the advantages. Soon we'll even have flexible screens that display the ideal contrast for our eyes. But the physical presence, and smell, will never be matched by technology.

Jennifer said...

I have a small head. My face fits in there just nice. I don't really do it on purpose, it's not like I do a spine check every chapter and see how far I can open the book without damage. It's just the way it is.

I can't bear to highlight in my textbooks either. I am a total freak.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

I have been waiting for this discussion. Why is reading a hard copy book so much better than soft copy but listening to music via a crappy quality .mp3 file perfectly acceptable over the vile CD? I'll tell you why; because most people steal their music via torrents, file sharing, etc. Free crap is apparently preferable to paying for good quality sound. As for books, I absolutely want a physical hard copy and have no interest in any sort of downloading tool. I don't trust wireless access (security issues) and agree that thre's no feeling like finding hard to find books and/or cracking the spine for the first itme.

Phronk said...

Jen: Hehe, nah I can understand the desire for a pristine book. I'm like that with technology, at least when I first get it. Gotta get a case for the iPod and carefully put it in there without a single scratch. :)

Steve: Yah agreed. Piracy of books will become an interesting issue as they become easier to read in digital form. I used to hold out and only buy CDs, but now that most legally purchased music is indistinguishable from CD quality and has no DRM, the advantages just outweigh the costs. But for me it'll be a long while before books reach that balance.

Shora said...

I love books, like I love my old vinyl records... but I want one of these! How many times have you been reading a book and thought "I wish I could do a search back on such-and-such"? Problem solved. And for students? I swear my kids are permanently stooped from the textbooks they have to lug to and from school. Books will always be a treasure, but this will also be amazing.

Still awfully pricey though....

Steve said...

Mike, re: CDs, thanks for the info. I just hafve no desire to go the download route on music. I have about 1,300 CDs and buy on average 1-2/week. I know I'm the minority but I don't like the restrictiveness of having my music only on a computer or mp3 player. I can put my CD in our car sterio, my home sterio or portables. I have an mp3 player but with that many CDs, I can only put a smidgeon of my music on it (my player is 2 GB).
I hope books don't get into the piracy issue like music did. If people like downloaded text, no problem. Just pay for it. I'll stick with you & DB and stay with hard copy. Great topic.

Dan Brown said...

Phronk: If God had meant us to read, we would all be born with two eyes, not one as is the current norm. But seriously . . . I'm so glad this topic generated so much discussion on my blog and yours. We should team up more often . . . it'll be like the Marvel Comics of my childhood. You can be Spider-man, I'll be the Human Torch.

Steve said...

Dan, does that make you a "flamer"??

Phronk said...

Shora: Good point. Searching would be awesome. There have been times when I've wanted to find something specific in a book, but CTRL-F didn't find it.

Steve: Yah I like the idea of CDs, since they have all the advantages of a digital file and more. Except convenience and cost. I've just become so lazy and cheap that it's easier to get music online (even legally, it's cheaper).

Dan: Sounds like a plan. Oooh, but can I be The Invisible Woman instead? I've always wanted to have lady bits to play with, but they'd get distracting so I'd need the ability to make them disappear once in a while.

josh0 said...

-=[ 1. mp3 vs copyright infringement ]=-

Read our Copyright Act. Especially section 80.

You can enjoy either popular modern music performed in Austin at SXSW, or enjoy many works in the public domain or under a creative commons license at the internet archive.

-=[ 2. Paper vs. Plastic ]=-

Nice to learn proper digital books look nothing like my computer screen. Now I'm interested!

-=[ p.s. twitter && torrent ]=-

I think the banning for torrent behaviour you mention can be avoided if you strictly leech when on campus.

josh0 said...

-=[ 1. mp3 vs copyright infringement ]=-

Read our Copyright Act. Especially section 80.

You might enjoy either popular modern music performed in Austin at SXSW, or enjoy many works in the public domain or under a creative commons license at the internet archive.

-=[ 2. Paper vs. Plastic ]=-

Nice to learn proper digital books look nothing like my computer screen. Now I'm interested!

-=[ p.s. twitter && torrent ]=-

I think the banning for torrent behaviour you mention can be avoided if you strictly leech when on campus.