Paper and Pages vs. Screens and Buttons
Phones, tablets, computers, and laptops—could we function without them? Paper trails rarely exist, and books have lost value. Why and how in a mere decade, has technology managed to virtually wipe out paper?’ Books. Is there a need for physical books anymore? Or would the majority of the population prefer pages in the form of a screen? For college students, eBooks are all the buzz.
They’re cheaper, more accessible, and a heck of a lot lighter to carry than the paperback and hardback versions. But when I use technology to access a book, I struggle to receive as much pleasure as I do when I read a physical, paper copy. Libraries. As technology develops and spreads, libraries lose their importance. When I was in the 5th grade, I took a school trip to my local library. It was 2005.
I remember being less than excited to find out that I was going to have to read all day; when I walked through the front doors, however, I was overwhelmed. I was a kid in a giant candy store. Books on books on books. I’d never seen this many books. Lined to perfection in each alphabetical row: the OCD inside of me jumped for joy.
I gasped, quickly to be shushed by my teacher. It was quieter than any place I had ever imagined. I could hear my heart beating inside my chest. I was not a big reader in the 5th grade, but the thirty seconds I had spent in this library made me want to read a 10,000-page novel. We followed our librarian tour guide up and down the aisles, listening as she went on and on about the many amazing benefits libraries offered.
I listened and scanned. High school and college students sat crisscrossed at half-moon shaped tables with their homework sprawled out on every edge, studying and embracing the atmosphere. The only sound in the place came from our tour guide. Next, we stopped in the encyclopedia section. I’d never seen so many books that looked the same. “Excuse me,” I asked while pointing.
“But why are there so many of the same books right here?” “These are encyclopedias,” she answered. She went on to explain how encyclopedias work and gave us step by step directions on how to access a certain subject. This was my favorite part of the trip. First, we walked over to an old and clunky computer—nothing like today’s slim desktops—and entered a keyword into the library search engine. Each specific search would give out a particular number, and you would then go up to the librarian at the front counter and say, “I would like to check out encyclopedia number 46, please.
” She would ask for your name and how long you wished to check out the book; once you gave her this information she would hand you a card with the designated number of the encyclopedia you wished to check out. The final step was to go down the aisles, find the corresponding encyclopedia, and, of course, read it. At the end of our demonstration, the librarian told us that although she showed us how to check out a book for a short period of time, every book they offered had the option of being rented out for a longer period, meaning multiple days and sometimes even weeks. For an overwhelmed 5th grader, this process meant that I could find out anything and everything there was in the entire world. I had hit the mother lode.
It felt as if I had had every piece of candy ever invented in my hands all at once. I generated this plan that I would read every single encyclopedia in the library and be the genius of everything. Looking back, I realize how absurd that plan was, but in the moment I did find joy in locating and scanning each volume. The smells of freshly printed paper permeated the air. I sat down in a tight corner, legs crisscrossed, held on to my large encyclopedia, and started reading about soda pop. I felt the history in each word.
The crinkling of the pages in my lap filled the quiet air as I turned one at a time. I didn’t realize how long I had been sitting there until my teacher tapped me. “Ciera, it’s time to load the bus.” I tried to remember the book return policy the librarian had explained and luckily it came back to me. I was supposed to put the encyclopedia back where I found it and return the card back to the front desk. This would tell them that I was officially done reading it.
I completed this process, and ten minutes later, we left. On the bus, I felt empty. I wished to stay in my little corner, reading my book forever. I loved everything about the library. The smell, the distinct sounds, and the order still resonate with me today, over ten years later.
Since that day, I’ve always appreciated libraries and unappreciated technology for rapidly ridding the world of the need for libraries and books. My candy as a child, was books, and as technology gulps my candy, I find myself uneasy. Yes, online encyclopedias and eBooks are easily accessible when we need to find or read information quickly, but if we resort to only reading through a screen, do we obtain the same experience over reading a physical copy? It’s evident that all pages, either virtual or physical, were written for a specific reason and with a specific purpose, but the difference lies in the fact that books possess age and history. Some may call it “wear and tear.” We can pick up a book that’s been handed down from parent to child and understand there’s a story and a particular reason behind the transfer.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to do this with eBooks. A person can’t pass down a website, laptop, or eReader with the same effect. Books on screens eliminate traces of people who have previously read it. Loving dedications, notes in margins, bent corners of favorite pages, and library due dates are all erased. Books are constantly being updated. New editions are released, money is spent to publish, and time is taken to re-write and re-edit.
On the opposite side, technology is more easily and more frequently updated. This poses an issue to libraries and librarians. They exist and work because of a love for literature. They also provide readers with historical and handed down copies of books. But as technology grows and physical books become less and less of a necessity, their passion dwindles. Throughout my older years, I’ve first-handedly witnessed how libraries are becoming less and less abundant.
As a society we’ve lost the thrill of holding the book in our hands, turning the pages, and counting how many are left until we find out if they fall in love or live happily ever after. Instead, we’d rather scroll endlessly on a website or click “next” on an eBook. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the logic. Paper trails rarely exist. Now, we rely heavily on technology to preserve the stories we hold near and dear to our hearts. With new innovations of technology, we’ve lost the once written down history and have turned to screens instead of pages.
But technology is indefinite. What if our kindle dies in the middle of a book, what do we do? What if a power outage occurs and we lose access to our online reading material, what do we do? Truth be told, we never know how long our technological copies will last, but with a physical copy, we have the power to preserve it for as long as we please.