With the ever-growing popularity of the e-reader and the ever-spreading digitization of all things written, many have heralded the end of traditional books and the printed word as inevitable. My own experience, however, leads me to think that those who advocate this line of argument overestimate the permanence of technological advancements and overlook the power of nostalgia. Indeed, last year I purchased a kindle. The idea of having my entire library in one easily accessible and well organized place was very appealing – as were the low (and in some cases nonexistent) costs of available e-books.
And so when the kindle arrived from Amazon I, with childlike excitement, became obsessed with it. I have downloaded as many e-books as possible, created category headings and subheadings for different authors, genres, literary movements and centuries of publication. I’ve even put some of my own academic work on there in the form of PDF files. One thing I don’t do with it though – I don’t really do much reading.
The kindle lets me categorize books, read reviews of it, highlight it, share it, and generally do things to it its author never intended. Perhaps I suffer more than most, but technology has an effect on the attention span and productivity of every single one of us. Think of digital media – even this very article has been kept short and concise to keep readers from losing interest and clicking a link to elsewhere on the internet. Traditional books are passive, a screen interactive – technology distracts people, and that is why I believe that – though its dominance may wane – traditional books and the printed word will never disappear.
There is a certain romance to an old traditional book or newspaper article that a digital file downloaded from the kindle store can never hope to hold. There is a nostalgia in reading the personal, written words a loved one wrote on the inside cover of a gifted book, all those years ago. There is no warmth or artistic whole in a linear, electronic list of books and publications that beams at you from a screen.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that technology commentators have a tendency of predicting a future where everything is smaller, faster and more connected. In their visions, they think only of improving the now – they think nothing of the nostalgia for then. To find evidence of our obsession with the past, simply look at retro and vintage trends that have developed elsewhere – in fashion and in popular photography (corduroy trousers and Instagram, anyone?). Human advancement is not as linear as some commentators would have you believe. Will reality-augmenting brain-chips be the norm twenty years from now? Will some people read books from inside their own heads? Perhaps. Dear technology nuts – traditional books and the printed word will remain. Moreover, it will most likely be packaged as an imitation, complete with creaking bindings, yellowed pages and the faded type of a first-edition publication. That’s nostalgia for you, and we just love indulging in it.
Traditional Books Are Nostalgic…Something A Kindle Can’t Touch