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Friday Freewrite: Survival of the Book

24/06/2011

I was mulling over ideas for a Friday Freewrite, and had almost given up the idea on the basis that freewriting anything while multitasking is sort of cheating when I stumbled on a HuffPo article posted yesterday. Johann Hari makes the claim that “In The Age of Distraction, We Need One Thing More Than Ever: Books” by highlighting the depth and timelessness of words committed to paper, far more substantial than the snippets of information and opinion we glean from social networking, sites like HuffPo itself, blogs like this one, and other sources of micro-publishing. Hari also admits being wooed by the thought of an eReader (his gadget of choice would be the Kindle), but contends that as the devices become multifunctional they move further away from being a suitable substitution for a hard copy book.

Quite honestly, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, let’s be clear: this blog is dedicated to writing and reading. And I absolutely love my Nook, but more recently it has spent more and more time sitting on the bedside table beneath whatever actual book I’m reading at the moment. A couple of times the device has completely powered down because I left it alone for so long. There’s just something about the ability to hold pages between my fingers as I turn them, to run my finger down the page as I search for my spot, to smell that new (or old) book smell… These are a few of my favorite things, things that I’ve taken for granted but would fight to the end to keep.

Besides, I can’t fathom a world in which there is absolutely no market for books. They are the economically frugal option; even if the digital version of a book costs half the price of a hard copy, that’s only after the initial investment of hundreds of dollars. There is still an entire generation of people alive for whom technological advances are confusing and not a little frightening (my 83-year-old grandmother still thinks of laptops as “magic boxes”), and it is unrealistic to expect them all to acclimate to a change of that enormity. And when they are gone, there will still be the bibliophiles: people like myself who feel most at peace when they are surrounded by the written word.

You see, the eternal beauty of books to me is not entirely bound in the reading of them. I find that simply walking into a room and seeing books lying on a table or neatly arranged on a shelf puts me in a better, more relaxed mood and gives any environment a more open and cultured feel. Maybe that just means I’m a book snob, but I feel how I feel.

As convenient as a digital reader can be, I worry that we’re conditioning ourselves to be constantly locked in to one screen or another — either we’re staring into a computer monitor, furiously scrolling on a smart phone or tablet, or navigating our favorite stories on a Nook. While the convenience of the latter cannot be overstated (over 5000 books at your fingertips with an 8GB microSD card installed!! No more bulky suitcases for “light” reading!), it would be a mistake to completely toss away “old” technology for the glitz and glitter of the new. After all…a book’s battery never needs recharging.

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