It is always amusing to me to read doomsday predictions of existing products when newer, (especially) digital products hit the market. Headlines such as 2010s “The Physical Book is Dead in 5 Years” fail to take into account multiple dimensions of product usage. They focus exclusively on one benefit of the new technology without considering the total experience. Nowhere is this more evident than with predictions about the decline of books.
Now, I appreciate the benefits of eBooks as much as the next bibliophile – 1,000 of titles I can carry around that weigh a mere 8oz, the ability to highlight, annotate, save, and share blocks of text, dictionary and Wikipedia integration – but those are all intellectual speed bumps on the reading highway. Nothing can replace the feeling of reading a book.
Reading is about feeling the weight of the book in your hands, smelling the paper as you turn the pages, touching and dog-earing the pages as you anticipate turning them so as not to break the cadence of your inner voice, running your hand along the binding (without the jacket cover of course, for those of you who don’t already know).
Reading books is a cultural experience; reading eBooks is a cultural phenomenon. For serious readers, eBooks are the electronic side dish, the Cliff Notes, to the actual story that provide greater understanding. eBooks are not a replacement, but a complement.
Last month, Departures Magazine cited, “Since 2014, sales of physical books in the United States have been modestly growing, while e-book sales have actually declined. In cities and towns all across the country, more independent bookstores are now opening than are closing, catering to readers of every taste.” It’s back to the original intention of the coffee house, folks, and not just in the way The Economist predicted for news in 2011. Everything we do is more participatory and more social. eBooks facilitate this and allow us to share our thoughts on what we read and write reviews once reserved for the literati. But, as a replacement for the magic of holding a book and turning its pages, I doubt it will ever happen.
Since the invention of movable type in the 15th century, the pen has been mightier than the sword. It’s certain to prove stronger than the eBook.