Technology vs. Tradition: An Ode to the Paperback Novel

With the onset and advance of technology, we are constantly being faced with new challenges and choices that our predecessors had not encountered. In my house of 20-something student winos, we have recently been debating a particular issue with considerable passion: The E-Reader versus The Traditional Novel.

In one corner, we have the e-reader. Slim, compact, with storage for hundreds and hundreds of tomes, the e-reader is the undisputed winner when it comes to travel. Being the young world travellers that we are, it’s great to be able to carry the 30 books we’ll tear through during our journey in one little pocket.

Mine was invaluable as I was backpacking across New Zealand and the Middle East, with every book I wanted at my fingertips. The user-friendly screen is a matte, dull white, and the print legible, closer in appearance and readability to a real book, as opposed to the backlit screen of an iPad or a computer.

With Wi-Fi capability and access to the Amazon database, nearly every book you can think of is available for relatively cheap (no printing costs), and many of the classics, like Moby Dick or Crime and Punishment, are available for free. Some textbooks are even becoming available online, negating the need to carry 3,000-pound bookbags between classes, while the annotating, quote-selection, dictionary and highlighting capabilities save time and effort. All in all, a smooth, useful contraption that can certainly make every day life a lot easier for the heavy-duty reader.

Opposing the e-reader, we have the traditional paperback novel. Durable, classic and much less prone to electrical glitches and dead batteries than its competitor, the novel can be bulky and awkward, though it is much more impervious to wine-related damage.

To admit our bias right off the bat, nearly every one of my book-obsessed roommates swears by the old-fashioned page-turner, though at first we couldn’t tell you why. Upon further discussion, we came to the following realizations and conclusions.

The battery issue is a big one. It’s a truly panic-inducing moment when your book dies and suddenly, you have absolutely NO reading material, or at least not until you locate a power outlet. But the real clincher is the sharing aspect. We (along with almost every other book-enthusiast) love to share our books, plying each other with stacks of our favourite novels and then interrogating the reader ruthlessly for their impressions and opinions. You can’t do that with an e-reader, not unless you’re willing to lend them your device and lose your own book in progress. There is no capacity for file-sharing between readers (or not legally, anyway), so each e-book must be purchased and used by only one person. This also removes the inspiration aspect – when we can walk into each others’ rooms to check out their personal libraries, or browse through our communal living room bookshelf and be inspired. We peruse slowly through the spines, recognizing covers or titles and saying, “Oh yeah! I meant to read that! I’ll just grab it now.”

Finally, there’s the aspect of physical copy. As my roommate, Jess, puts it, “I think everyone agrees: nothing beats the feel of a book in your hands. Books will be books forever.”

Call us old-fashioned, or pretentious, or hipster, or whatever you like, but we all place significant value on being able to hold a book in your hands. And, as Jess also pointed out, there’s nothing like walking into an old bookstore and inhaling that inviting, old-book smell as you survey the countless possibilities. All those old volumes accumulated from god-knows-when evokes another thought, as well: books will be there long after their author is dead and gone. A book is the physical, thought-filled testament to their existence and their work.

In conclusion, I think that the e-reader is a fantastic invention that has many merits and will be continually upgraded over time as it makes many peoples’ lives easier. But for my part, and that of my book-devoted roommates, so long as we’re not on the road, it’ll be good, old-fashioned paperbacks in our hands and taking up excessive amounts of space on our shelves.

Not to mention, books make good coasters. For wine and things.

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