By Penny P. Lee
Physical books are gradually being phased out in favor of ebooks, which are downloaded onto and read from thin electronic tablets. While it is great that people are reading at all, it is a shame that paper books are no longer fashionable. Many people in the field of literature are working to bring physical books to the forefront once again.
Tablets have become popular because they appear to be convenient. People love the idea of having a whole library that is accessible with the touch of a finger. However, building this sort of library requires a significant upfront cost. Tablets are not cheap. Electronic books are slightly less expensive than physical ones, but one would have to buy hundreds of ebooks before the money saved would fully absorb the initial cost of the tablet. Savvy readers who buy physical books online often find books that are cheaper than ebooks. One cannot make the switch to ebooks with the goal of saving money.
Another problem with tablets is that they break. Like smart phones, ebook tablets are notorious for having screens that shatter easily. It is very common to see someone reading an ebook around cracks in the tablet's screen. Some models have glossy screens that create huge glares, disrupting the reading process, though some companies have begun to use a matte finish on their screens. Whatever minor inconveniences physical books were perceived to pose have now been replaced with a whole new set of annoyances.
Academics dislike ebooks for several reasons. First of all, one cannot highlight phrases or write in an ebook. It is impossible to quickly flip to an appendix or skip to footnotes. Tablets eliminate the fluidity of the reading process as it has been taught up to this point. Turning pages and feeling paper is part of the experience of reading a book. Everyone knows what it is like to make creases in a book's spine for the first time. A small sense of pride comes from having made it through a book and left one's mark on it.
Books become heirlooms that are passed down through generations. As new editions are published and different cover art is printed, an old book increases in value. It also becomes an object of curiosity. Old books have a certain mystique about them. It is fascinating to look through a book that someone else has owned and look for notations or drawings. These little messages from a book's past owner contribute to a book's character. An ebook cannot be shared with others in the same way.
It is unclear how ebooks will factor into early childhood education. Children who use tablets are receiving a kind of education that their parents did not, but they are missing out on the tactile experience of turning a book's pages. Books for children are manufactured to contain different textures and pop-up features that cannot be mimicked in an ebook. Time will tell whether children suffer for not having this particular experience.
The main argument against ebooks is similar to the larger argument against people's growing dependence on technology. A book is not something that can only be enjoyed through an expensive electronic device. Some things should be left in their purest forms, and a book is one of those things.