Books vs. Digital; Which is Winning? It May Surprise You

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Is the Torah more profound when hand lettered on a scroll; is the Bible more meaningful when held in the hand; a novel more personal when well thumbed? 


I love books, real books. I love the way they feel in my hands; the way they smell when they are new as well as when they are old and I love the way they look on the shelf. Owning a book that you have read makes a small statement about who you are; a collection of books can, for a discerning acquaintance, define a personality.

Yet…yet…as much as I love holding a real book, I now read via my Kindle. Why, because it provides so many extras. When traveling I can greatly lighten my load by not having to carry multiple, heavy books in my bag. If I don't know a word, I can instantly find out its meaning. If I am not sure I want to buy a book, I can sample it first. Do I like the chosen font, if not I can change it. 

Based upon what I see on the subway and on airplanes, I had assumed that ink on paper books, like newspapers, were taking a beating. The people I saw weren't holding books. They were listening to music, playing games or texting their friends. In fact, with all of the alternative forms of portable entertainment (movies, games, apps, social networking, texting and more) it was easy to assume that reading in general was in decline.  Well, not so fast. 

Amazingly, reading physical books and reading in general are doing just fine. That according to an interesting New York Times piece by Daniel Victor. The article's headline says it all: "No, the Internet Has Not Killed the Printed Book. Most People Still Prefer Them." Here is how Mr. Victor begins his article: "Even with Facebook, Netflix and other digital distractions increasingly vying for time, Americans’ appetite for reading books — the ones you actually hold in your hands — has not slowed in recent years, according to a study by the Pew Research Center."

Intrigued, I read the Pew research and found this compelling graph:


When you study the graph, you see that five years ago, the move from physical to digital and away from reading in general was profound. Now, it appears the that dramatic increase in ebook reading was more of a minor adjustment than a long term trend


How is this possible? Perhaps our tactile connection with words is far more powerful than we think. Whether words were carved into ancient tablets (think Moses and not Steve Jobs), hand written by scribes on parchment or pressed into paper by Gutenberg, there is something almost mystical at work.

Is the Torah more profound when hand lettered on a scroll; is the Bible more meaningful when held in the hand; a novel more personal when well thumbed? Maybe they are.

And why are people still reading in general when there are so many alternatives? Perhaps its because a great novel or history continues to provide something that a game or movie cannot. Will that change over time? I think there is a good chance it will but until then books are holding strong and we are all better off for it.

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