Physical vs. Digital – Books

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On Tuesday, I talked about physical vs. digital media, mostly about the subject of video gaming.
Today, we are going to revisit the subject but with a topic that quite a few more people are passionate about, and can easily understand why it is an important things.
Novels.

I discussed the sort of ritualistic tradition that came with physical games. The process of installing a new game, grazing the manual as the load bar slowly inched forward… and while for many, that will ring a bell of nostalgia that they’re happy to remember, for many others that doesn’t matter at all. For a lot of people, they’re happy playing the pre-installed version of Solitaire on their PC. But many people understand the tradition of reading a good, solid physical book.

The smell of the pages. Oooh, especially if this is an older book, the smell of those pages that wafts by every time you turn a page is something that can’t be beat.
Sitting in a comfortable chair on a rainy day (or any day, really) with a cup of tea or coffee, hands gripped tightly to a good book, the only thing you hear are the somehow real and amplified voices of the characters and the crinkling of every turned page.

Another thing. The crinkle.
Ah, what a glorious sound! A lot of the time, you don’t care and don’t focus on it –  of course you read a story what is on the pages, not the pages themselves, but when you take the time and really realize it… or when you’re reading an eBook, a way of reading that obviously doesn’t have physical pages, you can notice it easily, and it can be a little off putting.

Here – take a book. It doesn’t have to be old, necessarily. I have a Webster’s Dictionary right here,  and let’s flip the page. Turn it. Feel the page scrape across the next one, hear the crisp crinkle… at this point, take a chance and really get a feel for that page. That nice, perhaps somewhat grainy, beautiful paper.
It sounds weird! I know. But you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Reading books is an experience. I mentioned before about video games being an experience inside and out of the game, well with books, the experience is one cohesive entity that never goes away. The experience isn’t just the story that is written on the pages, but it is everything I described above. The ever-growing tight grip of the bottom of the novel as the plot thickens, the crinkle of the page, the smell of the paper, the feeling of progress as the pages begin flying by, faster and faster and faster as you become totally engulfed in the words that you have no clue what’s happening in your own world until you’re either able to put the book down or until it’s complete.
It’s almost magical, the effect that a physical book has. They really are little portals in your hands that can take you to all these fantastic places. You hold the key – just let yourself go, and the hours will fly by and you will feel emotions that feel as real as any other in reality.

Digital novels, or eBooks, lose a lot of that effect.

Sure, they are enjoyable. And convenient. And easy. I have one loaded up on my phone right now because it was on sale and I wanted to give it a shot. The story and the writing is absolutely fantastic – but as a sit in a waiting room, or in a fast food restaurant, or in the car and I just want to read a little… while it is completely enjoyable, I still feel like an outsider. I stare at that bright white screen, and I drag my finger across, and I laugh at the appropriate moments and I get excited at the right times… but it isn’t the same. At all. I am not engulfed, I’m simply enjoying a story looking in, instead of feeling everything at once.

And that isn’t the author’s fault at all. In fact, I’m looking to buy a physical copy of said book at some point so I can finish it up and do it justice, instead of reading a little every time I need to wait a while.
It’s the fact that this medium of reading is… cold, uninviting, and it feels incomplete.  I’m fine with reading a news article or a blog post on a screen, but when it comes to a deep, involved story? No thank you. It just doesn’t work.

And that’s not to say I don’t approve of eBooks. They are good ways to kill time, as I said, they are frequently cheaper than a physical copy and if I really want to read a certain novel and don’t have the twenty plus bucks to shell out for it, then an eBook is certainly the way to go.

It might also help get younger kids and people who don’t enjoy reading to actually read something. I know plenty of people who do most everything digitally because it’s the ‘way of the future’ and they don’t ‘want to be stuck with a dying art form’.
Plus, give a kid an electronic gizmo, and it doesn’t matter if (s)he’s reading The Illiad, it’s on an electronic device, and it has a SCREEN! (Actual excuse, by the way, to why someone would read an eBook to a paperback. It has a screen.)

Another great thing about eBooks is that they can be used for school. If a novel needs to be bought for class, the eBook is cheaper and you can highlight and take notes directly in the app. Whether or not a teacher/professor would allow that depends, but a lot of schools these days are allowing various sorts of tech to be used in the classroom, so I imagine it would work.

And although I said it a bit disparagingly above, the eBook is handy. It isn’t that hard to lug a paperback to the doctor’s office or to the DMV, but hey… having a few books in your pocket at all times is never a bad thing. It may not be the best reading experience of your life, but it’s far better than nothing.

But despite all of the pros that each has, and although I respect both mediums… physical books will always have the win, for me, and I don’t think that was ever a question. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy. I think shelves upon shelves of books is not only more impressive, but also shows character in my opinion, compared to having a iPad or Kindle with hundreds of books that sits there on your desk.

When it comes down to it, books, music, movies, video games… I’m a collector. Sometimes people want to compare collector’ with hoarders, and sometime hoarders call themselves a collector to justify their problems, but that isn’t the truth. Sure, they take up a bit of room. Sure, it would be easily to have all of my media on a single device, but where’s the fun in that? Where’s the personality?

I like being able to touch, hold, and interact with my media. It makes it personal, it makes it unique, it makes it me. You walk across my room and you can learn a little bit about me.
As much as I enjoy technology and how it can bring us together in ways never once thought… I’m also against the way it pulls us apart, makes us so tied to our device, and allows us to almost never have to leave our chair.

But that’s just one guy’s opinion. I’m a bit biased in the first place because when I grew up, hardly anything was digital, except for perhaps some music. I grew up with Blockbuster instead of Netflix, a library card instead of a Kindle, boxed games instead of Steam.

And some day, digital media may surpass it all. It might be the end all be all, and physical media will become irrelevant and outdated.
But until that day, I’ll happily clutch my paperbacks and my boxes and my DVD cases, and just hope that physical media won’t become an old trend of the past.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

– Brandon, 3:01 PM

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