Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of printed matter vs. e-material. It’s a constant debate in both the fiction and fact writing worlds: is the traditional book doomed? Will the next generation (who grew up reading on tablets and screens) abandon the heft of a paperback (or, gasp, hardcover) book for the convenience and easy carry-ability of the ebook? Will traditional magazines fade away as their aging readers die off?
You can probably tell from the title of this story that (after a lot of thought, and several discussions with younger readers) my answer is “no.” Maybe I’m showing my generational bias (life as I know it would not be the same without real books), but there’s a permanence to printed matter that cannot be replaced by e-products.
I enjoy reading on my iPad, but books consumed by ereader seem more disposable. “Real” books combine the joys of story discovery with touch, smell, and a flashback to an actual cover, creating a multi-sensory experience. Studies say that we retain what we read better when it’s on paper rather than a screen, and I’m guessing that’s why. There’s also a unique sense of permanence (this cannot be changed or altered), which provides a sense of security to the reader: when we pick up the same book again, in two months or in 20 years, a “real” book’s words will still be in the same place, on the same page.
Magazines straddle a finer line between temporary and permanent. Most issues are recycled before the next one arrives, though I do know a few readers who’ve created physical archives of their favorites (and others who wished they had the space to do so). Printed matter is more expensive to produce (and impossible to fix typos in), so it’s a real commitment to stick with paper production.
And yet several still show up in our mailbox every month. I wouldn’t read those same publications online, even on a cozy tablet. The screen world trains us to jump from one story to another; reading the same information on paper, we have a longer attention span.
If you are thinking “dinosaur,” you could be right; I was born in the last year of the boomer era, so I’m not even genX—let alone a millennial. But when I met with a group of fifth graders to talk about Oliver’s Surprise, and those kids (all born in the 21st century) talked about “books,” they, too, meant something that could be signed by the author. Best of all, they shared my reverence for printed matter—which seems to coexist quite happily with their admitted devotion to video games.
As screens become more and more central to our lives, and kids who don’t remember the world before the Internet become adults, maybe pen and ink and the permanence of print will become even more valuable? I like to think so, anyway…