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.


  1. Hi Sam, I'm not into predictions, because 99% of the time, mine seem to be wrong, but I'm definitely grateful for your Chekhov link, since I've decided to read as many of his stories as I can. I love books, but I love written words more - and personally don't care in which form I read them. Nor do I see this whole debate as an either/or issue.

  2. Hello Lee...Isn't that Chekhov link great? I've read more of his work off that link than I have in real books myself. I would prefer to have a book with all those stories in it but since I don't have one, I'm grateful for the new technology that makes them available to me this way.

  3. I am sure works by Chekhov et al must lose an awful lot in the translation process, or maybe it's just me, because I feel the same about Tolstoy and Dostoyevski(sp)
    Having said that I greatly admire Solcheneskin(spelling not even remotely correct) A day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch really brought home to me the misey of the Stalags. The Russians who had languished there for decades helped bear out a personal theory of mine viz the communists killed more of their own people than the Germans did in WW2.

  4. I haven't read many of the famous Russian authors, Nick. I find the short stories to be more digestable than the long novels and much of my problem has been that I haven't found the translations that make them read right to "my ear."