Battle of the books: the physical versus the digital

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Gone are the days of lugging around your thick textbooks and heavy novels: Audiobooks and eBooks are here to help, with all the convenience that the digital age has to offer. 

While the demand for physical books has slowly been decreasing over the past decade, the demand for digital forms of reading has skyrocketed, and the eBook industry seems to be reigning supreme with its $956 million in revenue.  

It’s no surprise that in the age of technology many are gravitating towards more convenient forms of literature, but I can’t help but feel a strong loyalty to good old hardcovers and paperbacks. 

There are certainly so many practicalities of the digital book. I’m eternally thankful for never experiencing university in an era when accessible, online information was not yet a concept, and my shoulders are definitely reaping the benefits of only carrying around my little laptop in the midst of this busy semester. 

But aside from this bit of usefulness, I hesitate to say that I enjoy using eBooks on a regular basis. I’ve used a Kindle for convenience’s sake when I’ve been travelling, and I have to admit, I did not like coming across as an 18-year-old boomer whenever I awkwardly sat down in a public park with a coffee and my e-reader. 

Granted, I could have thought of better reasons for my preference of physical books over anything else, but I think this point ties into a bigger concern I have about relying too much on technology. 

Many people I know, especially the older individuals, are increasingly using their eReaders instead of regular books in a stand for stubborn practicality, a stereotype which is unfortunately all too accurate (my dad is very firm in his decision to only read his exhausting history books on his Kindle). While I understand that many are moving towards making life easier for themselves, I also don’t like depending so heavily on my devices. 

Since I was a kid, I have been an avid reader. The joy I found in reading was not only from the stories themselves, but also in the physicality, even the sensuality of a book.  

You can’t replace the grounding feeling of the paper as you turn the page, the musty but comforting scent in a good read that’s been sitting on your shelf for some time. Feeling the weight of all that transportive writing in your own hand is a vastly different experience from holding your cold, heartless iPhone. 

We’re all familiar with the “iPad kid”, the annoying child who is probably way too young to be unhealthily obsessed with their sticky screen. I don’t think it would be that much of a stretch to call most of us “iPad kids”. Although our addictions to devices have become a kind of inside joke, there are genuine issues to be worried about here.  

We are a literate society: All of our lives truly revolve around reading. If we begin to only use digital books, then what separates our online selves from the rest of our lives? 

With a risk of being dramatic, while using my laptop to read sometimes hurts my eyes, more frequently, it hurts my soul. Regardless of the content that I’m engaging with online, using technology for absolutely all my pursuits, both work and personal, is draining and can have a larger toll on all of us. 

I’m not entirely opposed to reading digital books when it makes sense. But I want my reading for fun to be tangible, and a very separate endeavour from my academic undertakings.

So, I’ll keep my tiny physical book collection, thank you very much, and in the process, prevent technology from consuming yet another aspect of my daily life. 

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