Printed Books are Irreplaceable


the Stacks at the Marriott Library March 08, 2017. Adam Fondren for the Daily Utah Chronicle.

By Sean Williams

The very name of electronic books, ebooks, reminds us of what they are imitating. These electronic versions are often laid out like pages in a print book, and many programs even simulate the appearance of a page turning. On Amazon’s “Kindle,” words can be outlined in a way that looks very close to neon highlighting markers. These attempts at familiarizing an electronic reading experience show us how much we still crave physical books despite the presence of so many digital alternatives.

You can hardly blame ebooks considering what they’re up against. After all, print has been around in modern forms since the 1400s, and it had many precursors before that. Given this length of time books have established themselves as a cultural staple. Books have frequently been referred to in stories and conversations and remain an archetypal symbol of human knowledge. They carry this meaning all the way from young adult novels to classic fiction. Libraries remain prominent and they still have shelves stacked with papers even though they are being dwarfed by large online catalogs.

In this way, we can understand why the practical advantages of ebooks do not outweigh everything that real, tangible pages have to offer. Sure, they are often more convenient, accessible and cheap. They can even document notes more efficiently than a physical book can with certain programs. Despite all these advantages, they aren’t enjoying the total success they were predicted to have. Ebooks were seen as an unstoppable wave ready to destroy printing but print mediums have encountered a resurgence that reveals our continued love of ink on paper.

What exactly is it about pages and a binding that draws us in, even now? There comes a matter of ease when reading, which is a common opinion expressed by even young and college-aged students. Some readers continue to only read in print, while devices like the Kindle are increasingly falling out of fashion. In my mind, we can’t discount the cultural role we continue to assign to books. As a symbol old as time for our desire to learn, and as an idyllic way to escape our troubles if only for a minute, books continue to have power over us.

After all, the physical possession of a book lets us feel a connection to it. Ebooks don’t have weight, and can’t be put in a personal, tangible library. Ebooks can’t contain our hand markings, despite artificial simulations. It is hard to give a book a place in our history without holding it in our hands and making it ours. How can one feel a personal connection to something that can be emailed, compressed or edited at any time?

For these reasons physical books will continue to be indispensable symbols of learning and our imagination. As in other instances where the digital was assumed to replace the physical, we have the found the physical to be much more lasting than believed. We should, therefore, have the greatest skepticism the next time we hear about the decline of print. As long as we can mark on them, write on them and feel them, it is difficult to see books as being replaced by anything else.

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