Books as tangible objects

Read this on boston.com. It’s about the role of ebooks and wether they might someday fully replace physical books for consumers.

“People come in and say, ‘I read this on my iPad, and now I want to own it,’ ’’ she said. “And they buy a copy of the book. I particularly find the language interesting, because everybody says exactly that: I want to own it. As if somehow having it on their e-reading device is not really owning it.’’

And this is the hitch. For the last 1,500 years or so, the idea of the book and the book as object have been indivisible. We readers respect and adore long-form writing, whether it is argument, explanation, history, how-to, or story – and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t take digital form. But digital immigrants are used to the book being something else, too: a tangible object, and a symbolic one. We kiss our holy books; we build beautiful libraries, temples of learning;

The bit about kissing holy books is sort of an interesting thought. You do see people packing their bible with them on trips, waving them as they argue particular points and pointing towards them as a literal reference point. The message of Christianity (and probably other religions) supersedes the printed word, but would someone look at their religion differently if their only interaction with “the word of God” was one that existed through a computer? Could you be as committed to your religion if you first learned about it on a website like Reddit, rather than in a printed book you can take with you and show to other people? A lot of religions have physical manifestations of their religion. Catholics have Prayer Beads, Holy Cross necklaces, dioramas in churches. They build entire chapels for holy relics. Other religions have similar parallels. Could you be as committed if your only copy of your religion’s teachings were tucked away as a .txt file on your desktop?

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