Digital vs Print, or, Why I love E-books

ebooks-v-booksI spent several hours this morning clearing off space on my i-pad so I could use it again. Apparently, they have a very limited hard drive which fills up very quicky. My i-Pad is filled with images from my travels and reading. I was able to remove all the old books I had already read, so they now reside only in virtual space, although still available to me, in my Kobo account, and for my critiques for my writing group, online in our group file-sharing spot. Funny, that even though I went digital, I still need to make “space on my bookshelf.”

After completing my digital housekeeping I went to play on Facebook where I found this video from a Chilliwack based second hand book shop. It’s a music video style hommage to print books. The chorus chants “I’m all about the books, no Kindle” as the sweetly-dressed housewifish ladies dance and sing their praise of books. It’s cute, and it’s gone viral. Good PR for the local Chilliwack bookstore, I guess, but it does underline an issue that has been percolating for the last few years: which is better, print or digital books?

Full disclosure: I read a lot of digital books and very few print books. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the beauty and craft in the making of a print book. I do, but as I have acquired devices to read on (a Kobo Touch and an i-Pad) my choice appears to be leaning towards digital these days, and I find I’m actually reading more.

It all started when I was having difficulty getting through one of my favourite author’s more recent offerings, which I had purchased in hardcover. It was a very thick book. My body was unhappy when I took it out to read. My shoulders complained, my back ached, and my neck got stiff. I had an idea to search out a digital copy from the public library. They had a copy, and in a few days I was done reading this novel with minial effort. I had lost track of where I was in the book, not having the thick pages to show me what I’d read and what was left to read. I took my reader to the gym and place it on the ledge of the cross-trainer as I pumped and sweated away (I made the type really large and put lots of space between the lines which helped make reading easier). I read in the waiting room during appointments and on the train when I headed downtown.

With the ease of reading increased so dramatically, and the number of places I could read as well, I decided to see what else on my bookshelves was available from the library. I began to increase my rate of reading (I’m a slow one) and blew through several big bricks in the next few months. I began to look for discounts on digital versions of books I already possessed if they were not available in the library. I bought as many as I could find at really discounted rates ( I did already own a print copy), and read them all in quick succession. I used both of my devices. It was great!

I still have shelves full of books, but I hesitate to add to my collection now, knowing that I’m more likely to read if I buy digital versions, and my husband, tidy freak that he is, will be happier if I collect less stuff too. But print books still call to me. They have pretty covers and nice ragged edges that speak of craft and the art of making, and I realize this is one way that people get drawn in. They fetishize the object. The book is valued beyond the content within the pages. I know people who collect books and never read them, most likely seduced by their beauty and the idea of being well-read. I guess I’m more practical than most, so I resist the urge to purchase the pretty book.

Some people hate electronics. they see people as possessed, using their phones and tablets in the subway and on the bus, or walking about the streets and think this is very wrong. I say it depends what they are doing on these devices. Are they playing Angry Birds ad infinitum and Facebooking meaningless drivel about where they are and what they’re eating, or are they reading Shakespeare and Tolstoy? Well, that may just be my snobby side showing, but I think it does matter what we do with our time as a culture. If we are reading, I can’t see how that can be bad, no matter what the medium (or content) is.

I will say this: there is a use for all formats, and some people will always prefer print over digital, and that’s fine with me. I still prefer to read textbooks and dictionaries in print, for example, although I tend to read recipies on my tablet now. It’s easier in some ways to navigate a print book, flipping pages to find your target. Digital books have the capacity to do things that print doesn’t do well–or at all. I can adjust the print to the size that suits me, a boon to my aging eyes, and digital books can have additional content, such as hypertext links to other stuff, or embedded video, something print just can’t do. This capacity gives books the opportunity to be something new and different, and I think that’s really exciting.

As always, technology creates new ways of working and living, and we all have to decide if we are going to jump on that bandwagon each time it comes around. Just don’t reject everything new outright. You may be missing an opportunity.

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