Cars are faster and greener; TVs are bigger and thinner; phones are smaller and smarter; and books can be read on a multitude of digital surfaces. And although Gutenberg couldn’t fathom the future of books when he started printing paperbacks over 600 years ago, here we are: reading on a screen no bigger than the palm of our hand.
The scope and breadth in which ebooks have spread in the past few years have not only been unexpected, but insurmountable. College campuses and corporations around the world have embraced this new medium as a means to communicate and share knowledge. Readers of all ages are finding a new and easy way to access their most beloved books. Libraries rent and share ebooks to hundreds of thousands of readers—already 65% of libraries across the country are involved in some kind of ebook-lending program.
Although this new format is challenging the norm and setting the publishing industry on an altogether different course, I believe its benefit is real and pronounced. Shouldn’t we be rejoicing in the fact that ebooks are making it easier and more accessible for readers across the globe? The days of walking to a bookstore or ordering a book online and waiting days (or weeks, if you’re on a library’s wait list) are long gone. Now, with the advent of the Internet, you are able to download a book and “begin reading within seconds.” I suppose the larger question is, what does this mean as applied to a whole? Has instant gratification driven us to extremes? Or have the advancements in technology only allowed us to continue to be a creative and dedicated species?
These questions are definitely important and necessary, but I can’t help but return to the bottom line: more people are reading, more people are learning, and more people are sharing. Regardless of the means in which they are doing so, they continue to involve themselves in an environment of books and learning.
People opposed to the ebook and digital ereaders love to lament over the death of the paperback. They claim to miss the smell of a newly printed book or the feeling of turning the last page in a series. Paperback books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so I never really understand this argument. Just because I own an ereader doesn’t mean that I have altogether forgotten the paperback book. In fact, I still buy just as many paperback books as I did two years ago when I bought my first Kindle. A wide range of writers (from Carr to Wolf to Ulin) have dutifully and articulately addressed what this new technology means for our brains. Their research has proven vast and in depth, and I suggest looking up what they have to say if you’re interested in the science and neurological effects of reading in the digital space. Until then, if you haven’t tried to read on an ereader, I encourage you to pick up a device and make your own call.