My love affair with paper and technology
I am undyingly faithful to my ratty, mildew-covered paperback novels. I have a deep affection for leather-bound, saddle-stitched hardcover books. And yet I find myself hopelessly in love with an e-reader.
Does my lust for this high-tech device make me a traitor in the world of bookish people? I think not.
“You are having a tawdry affair with a plastic gadget just because it can store the equivalent of a garage full of novels!” some of them cry, taking angry gulps from their tumblers of scotch. They’re worried that I am abandoning the tactile warmth of paper books for a ruthlessly cold, blinking screen.
But in reality, I still love the sensual curve of paper. I like to turn the crisp, white pages of a new book just as much as playing with the latest technology. I do have my moments of nostalgia for the way things used to be – when paper ruled. I think of my mother in 1972, blissfully browsing her Reader’s Digest in the living room and utterly convinced that our family’s portable RCA colour television set is the technology of the future. My father is hiding in the recreation room with his Popular Mechanic, which serves as a convenient coaster for his beer.
But let’s not get too maudlin here. To give the e-reader proponents some well-deserved points, it’s true that I am less likely to accidently smear the pages of my electronic book with barbeque sauce. That’s because this shiny tablet costs over one hundred bucks. In fact, if anybody goes near my e-reader with greasy fingers, I am inclined to attack the offender physically. My paper books, on the other hand, are invariably stained with coffee and chocolate.
Apparently e-reader owners can rest easy anyway because these devices are practically indestructible. I recently saw a four-year-old girl dump a bowl of unset Jello on the screen of her mother’s reader. In a state of panic, she quickly wiped up her daughter’s mess with a damp towel and watched in awe as the Jello effortlessly beaded off. It was a miracle, I tell you. The soggy book would have been left to dry in the basement, its pages stiffening with rigor mortis.
So you can see why I don’t want to pick sides here. Some people may also think that because electronic books are cheaper than their paper counterpart that writers will lose out in the bargain and be paid less. However, publishers are claiming that these same writers will sell more books. Since most writers I know live on carefully rationed potatoes, they certainly won’t care if their income is derived from a computer-generated book or one found on a dusty bookshelf. They will just be hysterically happy that their books are selling to people other than their relatives.
Then of course there’s the argument that buying paper books gives me an excuse to visit my favourite bookstore. And let’s face it. Is there anything more enticing to a book lover than those tidy rows and rows of alphabetically arranged books? The crackling fluorescent light, smothering crowds and endless line-ups at the cash don’t bother me because I am in the Church of Books. I worship the quirky people that work there. I could spend hours in a bookstore and I admittedly have, deftly avoiding other unnecessary tasks like socializing.
Space is another key factor to consider in the electronic vs. paper discussion. Every time I move my belongings to a new home, my apartment seems to shrink in size because I can no longer afford all of that room. I simply don’t have space for a decade’s worth of Roget’s Thesaurus. The e-reader, however, allows me to maniacally archive hundreds of books and to actually make them vanish with one determined click. Getting rid of my hardcovers is not so easy, and even dangerous for houseguests since I use boxed sets of Jane Austen to prop up wobbly living room furniture.
Given the indisputable evidence that both sides here have their strong points, I think it’s time to call a truce. I will continue to embrace the world of books and printer’s ink but I will equally relish the convenience and sheer fun of cyber reading.
End of story.
Ross Rogers is a freelance writer living in Montreal.
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