Sunday, February 18, 2007

Low Tech Books Still Offer More Than High-Tech Replacements

Whitney Gould of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel mentioned yesterday that a friend of hers has dubbed her "Gutenberg in the Digital Age" because she doesn't own things like an iPod, cable television, a digital camera or a Blackberry. She disavows any interest in new technology and explains why she much prefers a good book over any electronic version of the same thing. While I am Gould's complete opposite when it comes to new technology gizmos, I completely agree with her that a good book beats a new tech version of the same thing hands down.

Recently, when I was convalescing from back surgery and a fractured foot, my techno-aversion took on new dimensions. After a brief fantasy about gizmos that might make my confinement more palatable (now is the time to finally call the cable guy; I really should get into text messaging, etc.), I reverted to my primitive ways. What I craved more than any high-tech gadget, I realized, was time to read.

And read I did - 18 books in four months. Novels and biographies. Memoirs. Histories. Short stories. Poetry.
Reading a good book is itself an out-of-body experience. Your physical self is in a chair, your mind in another universe. And each foray into that unknown land leaves you enriched, better attuned to nuance and hungry to know more about the inner lives of others.
There is another joy to reading that is purely physical: the solidity of a well-thumbed hardcover nestled into your lap; the swish of pages between your fingers; the tingle you get from a good story unfolding, line by line. No buttons to push, no software to download, no batteries to recharge.

Whenever I hear someone say, "I just don't have time to read," I have to smile. You have the time if you make the time. Turn off the electronic buzz around you for a while and step onto the slow track.

Then pass that wonderful book you just read along to a friend and think of the great conversation you'll have.

And there it is. With a good book you control the flow of words and information at your own pace. If your mind drifts for a few lines, it's easy to backtrack and re-read a paragraph or two. Your imagination paints pictures that even the latest technology can't match and you get inside the minds of characters and real people in a way that no movie or play will ever allow you to do. And there is simply nothing that has the friendly and comforting feel of a book. Those who continue to predict the imminent death of books and of reading are simply wrong. It will never happen.
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