Saturday, 16 January 2010

E-Books Can Never Replace the Printed Word

To quote Daniel J. Boorstin, famous American historian and Librarian of the Congress, “A wonderful thing about a book, in contrast to a computer screen, is that you can take it to bed with you.”

From the dawn of time, man has felt the need to pen down his thoughts onto whatever material was available to him. From etchings on clay tablets to hieroglyphs on papyrus, to writings on ancient scrolls of vellum, the written word has always been a medium of expression of free thought and has been used to facilitate the spread of ideas all over the world.
Books of the early ages were used to spread the word, quite literally, about political and religious points of view to the people and later, used to publicize scientific breakthroughs.
Circa 1445, Johannes Gutenberg perfected the movable type and thus, the first printing press came into being with the publishing of the Gutenberg Bible. Since then, there has been no looking back. The printed book became, from an individual entity to an enterprise, involving capital, manpower and market for distribution.
Firstly, the printed word becomes a part and parcel of our lives right from the time we are born. Nothing gives us more joy or pleasure than to own our very first book. What can substitute the ecstasy or the curious tingling one feels when opening a book for the first time? The smell of the new pages, the crackling of a book being turned for the first time all add to the personality and the character of a printed book. The turning over of a book, the folding of page corners, and the beauty of the book covers all add up to give a book a human touch, one that compares to nothing else. After all, what can be more informative and enjoyable as turning the pages of the day’s newspapers accompanied by a steaming cup of tea early in the morning?
Secondly, with the coming of the internet age, however, several new technologies have come to light, some of which have been audacious enough to be titled as the next substitute to the printed word. However, as with every new technology threatening to overshadow its predecessors, so is the case with the advent of ebooks. In today’s technologically advanced world, where the Internet is the new information portal, it is feared that the information available online can ring the death knell for printed books. But what we fail to notice is that when we read online we sacrifice concentration for convenience, information for substance. A study by Burst Research found that 20 percent of students between the ages of 18 and 24 spend at least 20 hours a week on the internet, where as only 8 percent of students spent the same amount of time in front of a television or a book. This phenomenal chunk of the week spent in front of screens and keyboards is wiping away our ability to appreciate what is absorbed. The printed word gives us a chance to relax and actually concentrate on what we are reading. People find it much easier to sit down and absorb what he is reading when it is physically in their hands and not in an alternate medium.
Also, looking at things from an economic point of view, availability of e books requires the availability of a computer and an internet access, which, in today’s recession hit world, has become a near impossibility for a vast majority of the people. Even today, most people in poverty stricken countries fight for the bare necessities such as food, water and clothing. How can they be even expected to know about ebooks? And in today’s unethically rampant cyberspace, the chances of thefts of copyrighted books and free, illegal access to original e-books means that most authors and publishers are unable to get due credit for their work.
To reinstate my argument, I would like to quote Amy Lowell: “Books are the life, the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men lived and worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.” Thus, it is absurd to even think that new technology like the internet and ebooks can even compare to the age-old charm of a printed book, let alone replace them.


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