I had an interesting conversation today while at work. It was in one of those rather eclectic groups that could only be forced together by the randomness of scheduling. The discussion was about reading. The participants were: one 40 something sports guy who reads only sports related material, one 20 something sports guy who reads only the highlights, one 20 something guy who doesn’t read anything, and a 30 something dingbat who I didn’t think could read but reads popular fiction.
The subject of subject matter didn’t come up, but the medium of reading did. We were discussing the merits of books in their physical form versus in an electronic form. E-books allow you to download and store all of your favorites on one convenient device. Physical books, let face it, can be a pain (take it from someone who just moved his library). I expected opinions to be fall in with the age groups, but was surprised to find no correlation to either age or subject.
It comes down to the actual reading experience. Can one truly say they read a book if they read it off a screen rather than a page. Now, before we really get into it, let me say that I’m a huge technophile as well as a bibliophile.
Let’s start with the e-book. A file stored on a laptop, smart phone, or dedicated e-book reader. You have the option of switching books on the fly if you desire. You don’t have a lot stuff taking up space in a living room or spare bedroom. An e-book is convenient.
However, it is not perfect. It requires batteries, or at the very least electricity. Dropping it’s device from a decent height would cost you much more than the average paperback. It is dependent on at least a rudimentary understanding of technology. You have to know where to find an e-book for sale (let’s assume we all pay for our entertainment).
Paper books aren’t without their flaws either. A good sized one can be heavy, especially when it’s hard bound. A misplaced book mark and a windy day can lead to a tragic loss of ones place. They take up a lot of room (I have a library, I know this to be true). Closing them doesn’t make them go away.
Paper books are an experience though. They’re something you can touch, smell, and feel the weight of. It lends a certain physical sense to reading experience. There is a sense of accomplishment with every turn of the page. They are free from a public library (Your tax dollars at work).
Book are off the grid. I don’t need batteries, or a charger to enjoy them. I don’t even need electricity. Reading a book by candle light has been done for ages, and reading by a fireplace is simply wonderful. Park benches, beaches, camping trips are all prime reading opportunities.
There’s a social aspect as well. I like knowing that anyone in front of me knows what I’m reading. I’ve had great conversations with complete strangers because they could see the title on the spine. Just ask any person reading any Dan Brown novel. It’s alright, in fact it’s almost expected (those things are practically chat rooms).
Not long ago I was out at lunch, and I noticed that everyone was either on a phone or a laptop. Everyone except me and my book. During the cacophony of key strokes and one sided phone conversations, I realized that I had escaped my work day. I would not be tempted to send a few emails on my laptop, or make a quick call between sandwich bites. Work would wait for me (or it would not), but at that moment in time London Below was my priority.
Oh, the distribution of preferences? The dingbat sided with me, the others grunted and went back to their food.