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.