Digital age must not abandon pen, paper

Clio McConnell

In this tech-savvy day and age, we might as well be living in the world described by last century’s science fiction novels. Our lives have been streamlined, automated and electrified. And, whether we like it or not, the old days of analog technology

will never return.

With newspapers and magazines moving online, it seemed for a time that hard copies of books were the last stand of the print medium. Now, even that spine-and-cover bulwark has been converted to the electronic medium.

In the past century, there have been innumerable mechanical innovations — most notably the invention of the personal computer and the Internet. And while many such projects are now necessary to the modern lifestyle, this does not mean that we should abandon any links to our technologically limited past.

In November of 2007, Amazon launched a new product: the Kindle e-reader, a handheld electronic device capable of storing and displaying any kind of published written material. The Kindle’s vast catalogue includes novels, periodicals and even blogs.

Reasonably priced, eco-friendly and undeniably convenient, this nifty e-reader appeals to an vast demographic. However, we must consider the possibility that these new gadgets simply entrench us further in the tech-heavy futuristic society predicted by sci-fi writers of old.

Spoken language has been the foundation of human society since the emergence of man himself. With the emergence of alphabets and, later on, the printing press, literacy easily tops the list of most important human traits.

But the scholastic traditions of reading and writing have evolved over time — in 2012, the average college student might not even pick up a printed book in a full day of school. We can get our readings online — or on our Kindles and iPads — so why should we lug around a backpack full of paperbacks when we can access the books’ text while chatting with friends through an altogether different sort of book?

In reality, tangible paper books are better than their electronic counterparts because they are more effective. E-readers only serve to simplify and perhaps trivialize the experience of reading. One learns better, and in a more rewarding way, from picking up a canvas-bound volume than by simply pressing a button on one’s Kindle to switch windows from a game of solitaire.

When they invent that ultimate sci-fi gizmo, the time machine, perhaps some devoted readers will simply use it to re-live a time spent flipping through the real-life pages of a favorite novel.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 6 print edition. Clio McConnell is books/theater editor. Email her at [email protected].