Battle of the Book
Summer Books 2011 / Technology has created an interesting paradox; while people make themselves more and more publicly visible within the confines of their home through social networking, more people are choosing to become invisible while out in public, donning protective shields of electronic gadgets, such as Bluetooths, MP3 players and Kindles.
Since this is the Books Issue, we decided to explore how the digital world is affecting the book as an art form by questioning a few people about what medium they are choosing to read with these days, and how they feel about it.
Brandon Kumabe, a student at UH–Manoa who is majoring in economics, still prefers traditional books and magazines and offers some insight and refreshing candor on the perks of the electronic route. “I actually bought a Nook Color for Christmas, but I use it as more of a tablet for checking e-mail and reading news and PDF files for classes,” Kumabe says. “Barnes and Nobles has an online store where you can buy e-books and virtual magazines, but I find that I hardly use it, mainly because you can actually borrow e-books from the library for free and I tend to do that. Having an e-reader for class material is nice because it saves me from having to print out a lot of the readings that teachers send electronically. Plus, its small form factor makes it pretty portable and easy to bring to class.”
Harvard student (formerly of UH) Ryan Shields says “I really do think the Kindle is a great device. I was skeptical at first, but after using it for a few months I began to really enjoy the benefits of it: It’s great to travel with if you don’t want to lug around a suitcase of books. Just holding it is a lot easier than a really heavy, clumsy book. It’s much better to read on than an iPad or computer–the lack of a backlit screen makes it much easier on the eyes. They just added page numbers!” Shields’s only qualm with the Kindle is that it can be difficult to use as a navigating tool with maps.
We caught a brief word from Daniel N. Port, a computer science professor who grades down if a student turns in printed assignments: “I primarily use an iPad. I particularly enjoy reading comic books on it (because it has color). I have also found that I tend to read more for pleasure with the iPad. For example, I will load it up with a number of books and magazines that I enjoy reading at bedtime. They enable portable, flexible, and dynamic high-capacity access to printed materials. I do not think they will totally replace books–rather they are a complement. One important consideration is the “Green” aspect of e-readers. The total end-to-end cost of a book is actually quite large (i.e. acquiring raw materials for production such as paper and ink, energy invested in production, transportation, marketing, storage, disposal, etc.).” Port adds, “the overall “eco-cost” of a collection of books is likely far greater than the eco-cost of a Kindle with the same collection.”
Fellow UH-Manoa professor kuualoha hoomanawanui, who is also an author and editor of ‘Oiwi Journal, says, “Overall, a book is a tangible, often portable object that I don’t really worry about getting wet or dirty or stolen; it is easy to pick up and tuck into my bag and read just about everywhere, and I don’t need to worry about a battery dying at an inconvenience time. I might prefer an e-reader on a long plane ride, but give me a good paperback for an afternoon at the beach any day.”
We asked Alexei Melnick, author of Tweakerville, if he’s made the electronic leap: “Personally…no, I’m stuck in the past. I wouldn’t want to read Great Expectations off a screen. I’d think of it like drinking a fine wine out of a paper cup. But to each her own.” Melnick also comments on the alluring aroma of books: “Old books have a great smell, like you can breath them in. And there’s just something about having your own bookshelf with all your favorites lined up, like old memories. Many readers take a lot of pride in their book collections, like car people feel respectively. When I see a voracious reader’s book shelf stacked with books I hope to read some day, there’s an admiration I feel right away for the person.
Former editor of the Weekly, Ragnar Carlson lends us his stance: “My father gave me a Kindle for Christmas two years ago, and I was thrilled to have it. I charged it, loaded it up and took it with me on my next trip. I traveled again a few weeks later and used it again. In the year since (sorry Dad!) it hasn’t left the drawer. What’s interesting to me is that I loaded up three novels and one book about contemporary international relations, and the last one is the only one I read. I’m not sure fiction-on-the-Kindle works for me, and I think it’s because of the ways reading is different in print than it is on the screen. We’ve all become accustomed to the kind of scanning required to digest information through the computer screen. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that the transition to deep, close digital reading–the kind of reading we associate with literature, or poetry–has been much more difficult. The literary reading experience is more tactile for me, and more languid and does not lend itself as well to the act of holding or gazing at an electronic device. For the experience of pure reading, I find the technology of ink on paper superior to all competitors.