Is E-Reading Taking Over the World? (I Think Not)
You know something’s wrong when you salivate over the scent of flattened, bleached wood pulp. Or maybe the real problem is knowing that that is, essentially, paper. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a paper house. On Saturday mornings, my mother would balance her tea and bacon over the musty tablecloth of newspaper, explicitly spelling out images of goodwill, crime, and bad politics. Even before I remember being able to read, I know that words, as the mere vehicle of adventure, fascinated me.
I would beg my dad to read me two, three bedtime stories some nights. As I entered kindergarten and learned to recognize my sight words, I started shoving my finger across the page and haughtily scolding him whenever he deviated from the text in the slight. It’s undeniable; Books have power. However, in the advent of modern technology, the old tang of dusty library books is growing more and more rare, as people evolve from reading on paper to reading on screens. Whether in the form of fanfiction, blogging, ebooks, compilations of odd facts, or news spread around the globe with a dash of a finger, online media has taken grip of our society and refuses to let go.
The shift of information to the web has been famously condemned or trumpeted as either a curse or triumph of the new age, an argument that provokes bitter reactions from both sides. After all, how can something so unpredictable as the internet have the same effect, both intellectually and emotionally, as the handheld medium millions have come to cherish? While academics around the world unite in battle to defend traditional hard copy, I happen to strike a more mediated view. Paper has inarguably been the heart and soul of communication and knowledge for centuries, but that certainly does not mean online writings do not have a place in today’s society. I, for one, sympathize with the points made by champions of the written word. As any bibliophile will swear, the physical power present in a book or newspaper is in itselfan irreplaceable virtue.
As a literary connoisseur myself, I personally appreciate the ability to hold the medium in my hands, giving me a sense of control over the journeys I’m living vicariously. Even more than that, I relish the experience of closeting myself in blankets and inhaling chamomile steam and worn pages by the fireside, book curled like a cat in my lap. My mom calls me an old soul–and she’s right. The spirit of the novel is timeless, stretching back into the days of simple berry pies, Jane Austen, and bitter winter nights. It’s a world I choose to visit like one would the Hawaiian islands, and I have to say, I have found it impossible to replicate this atmosphere with a laptop. Time has honored and honed literature to become an art in itself, going as far back as the vellum bibles handpainted by monks in the dark ages.
From papyrus to paper, civilizations have labored to perfect a written method of communication. Even the letters themselves have been twisted by the tips of quill pens to form various dances of calligraphies around the world. By mere virtue of cultural and historical significance, hard copies ought to be preserved. Yet time also furnishes one of the principal reasons that readers should not fear the cyber-age. Long before the Chinese ground paper scrolls, humans had been telling stories. Greek epics were told around bonfires, legends of ancient heroes were passed through the generations like a golden heirloom.
Fables of good against evil reigned from the beginning of days to the darkest of nights. For hundreds of years, some of the world’s premier poetry, such as the Anglo-Saxon epic of Beowulf, was hand down through oral tradition. In the medieval era, many nobles and kings couldn’t even read, so bards were relied on for entertainment. When literate monks and nuns began to record the tales of the ages, there was no doubt some fear that the great custom of storytelling would be lost. But although we see few firelit rituals like the kind known to our ancestors, the oral tradition has continued in new and experimental forms. Just ask Conan O’Brien the value of a well-told story.
Or inquire to Obama why his speeches won the heart of a nation at unrest. Or visit the televised competitions of Poetry Out Loud to see how recitation changes the meaning of the written word. The voice has a certain magic about it, and that is why people have clung to it, preserving traditions that might not have seemed necessary once anthologies took hold. In the same way, a rough spine, crinkle of newspaper, and frayed pages will endure for their personal brand of magic. Some may argue that traditional publications offer more academic validity than online sources, but this may not be as much of a disadvantage as it might seem. While it is true that false information can be easily circulated around the Internet, this conundrum enables students looking for a reliable article to develop acute discretionary skills.
On the Internet, everything–and I mean everything–is put on the table, and all is game for interpretation. Online media is a conversation that anyone can enter, be it through comments, self-published articles and books, or blogging. Amy Goldwasser, author of the essay What’s the Matter With Kids Today?,identifies that access to such stimulating ideas develops communication skills in students, rather than hinders them, explaining that teenage internet users are more “connected, they’re collaborative…
they’re generating a body of intimate written work.” In other words, the vastness of the internet allows people to learn to express themselves. Rather than infiltrating young brains with contestable information, students are analyzing sources, gleaning their own opinions while recognizing bias and validity. These argumentative skills are crucial to developing one’s own positions and feelings on discordant topics while understanding others’ points of view. E-reading produces critical thinkers just as much as traditional texts. Online sources often wield powerful tools to enhance readership and textual understanding.
Ebooks, the latest trend in online reading, have seen skyrocketing success, likely due to their portability, affordability, and interactivity. As Vanessa Vaughn, the critically acclaimed author and editor, predicts, ebooks and other forms of online reading may actually usher in a revolution of literacy. With Ipads and tablets becoming increasingly commonplace in homes around the world, online sources are becoming more accessible, both physically and intellectually, than some traditional paper sources. Ebooks typically offer and enriching variety of options that increase comprehensibility: the online dictionary, auditory readings, notes and highlights that don’t permanently mark the pages of a classic. These benefits appeal especially to note-taking students, encouraging literacy in all of its forms.
In recent years, Amazon ebook sales by cost have actually bypassed the company’s hard copy sales. Since ebooks are generally cheaper than traditional books, this could only suggest that the benefits of e-reading have become more attractive than ever before. As a reader, I’ve noticed that these technological applications are particularly appealing to the next generation, which specializes in research at the click of a button. After all, for the first time in history, average citizens have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, sorted not by dewey numbers or card catalogues, but by the simple virtue of a search engine. This wealth of information correlates to Goldwasser’s apt insistence; Once information becomes accessible, young people are able to turn their focus from memorizing rote facts to analyzing the true meaning of the statistics, historical events, and literary masterpieces they study in school.
In this way, online media is actually not the threat that traditional book-lovers perceive, but may cultivate a new generation of critical readers. Nevertheless, no matter how permeated our society becomes with technology, how infatuated we become with the internet, traditional reading will always have a place in our lives. Rather than stifling reading, technology transposes literature to fit the next generation. Treasured by the millions of book-lovers around the world, hard copies will never die, but reincarnate into a new kind of life. One thing about love is that it can never be truly lost. And for me, the value of holding infinite words in my hands is something I will revere forever.
Newspapers, magazines, books–even anonymous leaflets of poetry– sparkle with the energy of dreams unspoken and roads untaken, inviting anyone and everyone for a ride through rippling universes of mystery, magic, and adventure. And although medium containing them may change throughout time, it is important to remember that the key vehicles of this journey are the words themselves. As I child, I marveled at the watercolor picture books and my embossed collection of Aesop’s fables, and perhaps these early memories are what have enamored me so much to hard copy books and prints. From kneeling over the Sunday comics to plucking bedtime stories from my bookshelf, it’s pretty safe to say that I’ll always revert back to traditional print. After all, habits are hard to break. Change is scary, which is probably why so many bibliophiles cringe at the thought of ebooks or blogging.
But change brings its own suit of advantages; in this case, technology has opened the doors to critical reading and literature to people around the globe and facilitated understanding of texts with online tools. So I can appreciate the value of online resources, even if I do prefer hard print. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. There was no need to burn books in the Inquisition five hundred years ago. There is certainly no threat that would require us to pull the plug on e-reading today.