For the love of books: Digital is not always better

Published: December 9, 2010

It doesn’t matter how many times one may log onto a blog or newspaper website – things read differently in print.

I’ve been papering my wall with pages of old books that I’ve loved. The mechanical exercise is strangely cathartic and every time I step back to look, it makes me happy. However, it does set off a train of thought on the role of books in a busy world, where paper is becoming redundant.

Is it true that they are becoming largely ornamental, to display on shelves and proclaim, “I read”?

For those who can afford it, options exist which have eliminated the need to ever enter a bookshop. The Amazon Kindle, for instance, is the ultimate simulation of the book experience. The screen is matte, the pages are pages, and one can access books, journals, magazines and newspapers without moving – as long as there is wireless internet.

Apple seems to be taking things to a whole new level, and App developer Josh Koppel has been doing his utmost to deploy creative methods of housing content. Earlier this year, he gave a talk at the Business Innovation Factory to answer the question: How do we make sure that what is beautiful and wonderful about offline media is not lost or degraded when brought online?

The answer: We don’t – not really. It doesn’t matter that I heard his talk online, or that multimedia can be beautiful and wonderful in its own right. It doesn’t matter how many times a day one may log onto a blog or a newspaper website – things just read differently in print. There’s something solid to be said about texture and tangibility.

There is also much to be said about the mindset with which one used to settle down with a book or a newspaper. It would signal a dedication of time to the subject – a luxury which is disappearing today. The internet has brought such a glut of information, that it’s really quite intimidating. One can only allow a moment to dip into something here, skim something there – never absorb at leisure.

The proponents of e-books have a valid point when they ask, “Why pay for something you can get for free?” Good books are expensive. Again, though, these are only representatives of the privileged few who can afford the digital options. Especially in a country like ours, there is still a dire need for libraries and spaces to encourage and celebrate the existence of paper.

Finally, there is an element of permanence that the written (or printed) word possesses, which the typed word does not. It is not easily altered, nor is it threatened by power cuts or waning batteries. The book can be passed from person to person for generations, until the silverfish triumph. And then it can be preserved for a few years still, in the form of a papered wall.


Madeeha Ansari

A graduate of the London School of Economics who works at a development consultancy.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali

    Thanks for this, highly required and missing trait of the societyRecommend

  • http://Twitter.Com/KarachiCrisis KarachiCrisis

    Nice article, though your pic on the beach is more awesome :)Recommend

  • Talat

    A well-written post. However, I don’t buy the bookish view that e-books don’t have the character of permanence which the printed word possesses. If an old man in his 80s said this, I would have agreed.
    Power-cuts, low batteries, etc. may interrupt you, but you don’t necessarily lose your content. It is more convenient to share e-books.. Moreover, while e.-books can be owned eternally, the paper books eventually wear out. I can not, however, differ on your point about sense of dedication.Recommend

  • Usman

    Nice article and an even better picture at the beach!Recommend

  • Maha

    Great job Maddy; despite whatever other great advances we might make in technology, cuddling up with a thick paperback (I don’t really like hardcovers, they’re uncomfortable since they don’t fold too well) is a simple life pleasure that really can’t be replaced. Digital readers do save a lot of weight while travelling though, have to admit.Recommend

  • Tanzeel

    Tribune’s eXtra efforts to promote blogs might end up losing my job.Recommend

  • Shumail

    I love books. And the beach. And…Recommend

  • parvez

    Completely agree with you. I don’t think the electronic book will ever replace the real thing.
    They will both hold their respective places in the field.
    You are so right when you say that the sheer volume of information now available on the net is intimidating. Previously it was “little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, I hope that technology does not help it to become “a lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Recommend

  • Zarab

    Are u in Dubai?Recommend

  • Xoheb Sheikh

    Wonderful piece. Reminds me of the following poem from Gulzar I’d once come across:

    Zuban per zaiqa aata tha jo safhay palatnay ka
    Ab ungli click karny se bus ek jhapki guzarti hai
    Buhut kuch teh ba teh jhukta chala jaata hai pardey per
    Kitabon se jo zaati raabta tha, katt gaya hai…
    Kabhi seenay per rakh ker lait jaatay thay
    Kabhi godee mein letay thay
    Kabhi ghutno ko apnay rehl ki soorat bana ker
    Neem sajday mei parha kartay thay, chootay thay jabeen se
    Woh saara ilm to milta rahay ga baad mein bhi
    Magar wo jo kitabon mein mila kartay thay sookhay phool
    Aur mehkay huay safhay
    Kitabein maangnay girnay, uthanay kay bahanay rishtay bantay thay
    Unn ka kya hoga?
    Woh shayad ab nahin hongay…


  • Bilal

    More paper books in demand means more trees to be cut. SAVE TREES ELIMINATE YOUR HOME WORK :)Recommend

  • Eleonora

    I have only seen one Kindle and one iPad in my life (and then they say books are expensive?) and the reason why they don’t do it for me is to do with the senses. My e-book reader would look, smell and feel the same regardless of what book I am reading, and however many people have read that very book before me. Not real books.
    There is something about the satisfaction of page turning, which for me doesn’t have to do with the flick of the finger, but with stroking the pages that are left with my fingertips, simultaneuously (and synaesthetically) reading the story and knowing how much of it I have left.
    To add to your point about dedication vs the skim-reading culture: What’s the use of being able to share fast as lightening something you are mean to enjoy at your own pace?

    Although on durability, my friend who owns a Kindle said he chose to buy it because when he reads books he ruins them (folds, cracks on the spine, etc) and that made it hard for him to share them with friends. Fair enough. Although I doubt two people are reading the same book, if they are reading two copies of it, each on their own reader.Recommend

  • sidra rizvi

    i have this software that allows me to read on my cellphone. its good. the online library n collection of books is amazing. i find books online which i have been searchin for years. but there r downsides too. staring at the screen for a long time gives me a severe migraine. isnt it obvious :P but the fact remains paper books have their own charm. even though they r costly and hard to find, sitting comfortably with a good book has always been the thing to do for me. no ipad or kindle can replace that.Recommend

  • Shumaila

    While I am an eternal fan of the smell and feel of books, and while my survival depends upon hunting up volumes in the stalls and bookshops of Karachi, I still think that the hubbub about ebooks vs books is silly. My room is filled with books but my laptop carries all those and more in a space that is miniscule compared to the other.

    Affordability is another aspect, what with ebooks often being/becoming cheaper than the real thing (and the reader an initial cost only).

    And finally, what about trees man? Paper paper paper and all those poor trees dying just cos you want to ‘smell’ and ‘feel’ and ‘turn pages’. The selfishness of humans, honestly. * huff*

    Welcome to the future. I mean, do you complain about why we don’t use the phonographs anymore? does anyone miss the texture of records and bemoan the intangibility of mp3s? then why complain about ebooks?

    The permanence you’re talking about is merely nostalgia masquerading as a romantic concept. Nothing has permanence these days. Blame the times.

    Ebooks are here to stay and you’re only being impractical if you continue to complain about them and their supposed lack of texture or or permanence or olfactory stimulation. But then most book lovers are romantics anyway, so I guess the complaining’s gonna last a long time :DRecommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Nice post, even better picRecommend

  • Amer

    Well if the pic in this blog says anything about how we are gona read books, I am in!
    LOL ;)Recommend

  • Mudassar

    @Xoheb Sheikh:
    nice piece of poetry!i just found it lovely!thanks!Recommend

  • Ghausia

    I like all the comments here about the pic. Total wakeup call, in case I should ever forget the mentality of the people I’m stuck with as fellow countrymen. It reminds me of a YT vid someone forwarded me about hot Pakistani girls on the beach. Bored and mildly curious, I clicked the play button, and found myself disgusted. It was just a couple of eighteen-ish girls sitting near the water; what apparently made them qualify as hot was the fact that they were wearing capris which showed a couple of inches above their ankles. For. The. Love. Of. God!

    Back to ebook readers though, downloading books instead of ordering them off Amazon would be a cheaper option I guess, but the initial cost of buying the Kindle or whatever reader you prefer, not to mention having to take care of it, plus maintenance costs because of course I end up dropping it at least twice…Eh, I’ll stick to destroying Mother Earth’s green creatures anyway. I’m not a big fan of Nature anyway. :PRecommend

  • Jackass 3D DVD

    Reading won’t die even if there are electronic readers out there. But still it is a missing thing today. Recommend

  • Green Sense

    For the record, making an iPad is probably much, much, much worse for the environment than making a book! How many trees, plants and animals the geeks must kill!Recommend

  • Aiza

    Nice article. Recommend

  • Liaquat Ali

    The coziness of the feel of a book is more nostalgic than real.

    Even being in the technology field during most of my career, I am not into electronic gadgets. Therefore, I didn’t pay too much attention to Kindle. But it is an amazing device and is now the most gifted item on Amazon. It is featherweight and reads like paper. The other reading tablets don’t come close, yet.

    Books will always be cozy, but the pragmatism of a Kindle-like device cannot be argued against.

    The writer’s argument of having more paper libraries is misplaced. It is actually the electronic devices that may bridge the gap of haves vs. have nots.

    To prove my point I encourage readers to visit to see how this man is change education as we know it today.Recommend

  • sana

    very nice article i appreciated your post. thanks for sharing.Recommend