Earlier this week I was at an event where the prizes were awarded for an essay competition that had been set for our English with Creative Writing undergrads. The topic they were asked to write on was: In our digital age, what value do books still have? and before the winners were announced a panel of speakers, drawn from different areas of the literary world, were asked to address this question themselves.
Fortunately, the audience was allowed their say as well because one of the problems I had with the responses from the panel was that there appeared to be a view forming that in the future it had to be either/or, the paper or the digital version and I don’t see that being the case at all. Certainly, at the moment, I happily alternate between the two, depending on whichever is the more convenient at the time. If I’m out and about then it is likely to be the digital version of a book I have with me mainly because I have a back problem and the lighter my bag is the better. My little i-Pad mini weighs less than most paperbacks and means I don’t have to carry a separate notebook or diary with me either. What is more, if I’m going places where I might have to wait, I can have two books with me for the weight of one – a real benefit for those of us who spend time in outpatients on a regular basis.
At home, I am more likely to read with a real book. To some extent this is because a lot of my reading at home is done for reading groups or teaching purposes and despite the search mechanisms that are now available on most e-readers I still find it easier to locate a passage that is sparked by discussion in a paper copy of a novel than I do on the electronic version. All three of my reading groups started out really enthusiastic about being able to get the chosen texts on an e-reader but in each case we have veered back to the real book for ease of reference.
Of course this may change as the years go by. I would hazard that there are very few people left who still choose to read from a handwritten scroll rather than a printed codex, but we are more than six hundred years on from the invention of the printing press.
So, I put my pennyworth in for a dual economy and the freedom to choose whichever format took my fancy at any particular time. However, as the discussion developed, one area in which it appeared there really was a distinction was in respect of what we actually choose to download to our e-readers. With the exception of classics available for free, we all agreed (and there were about fifty of us there) that we bought downloads that we wouldn’t really want to keep or to read again. Anything that we really valued as a story we wished to return to we actually bought in book form.
Now, if you think about it there is a kind of perversity at work here. If you want to hang onto a book it is much easier to do so in digital form. To begin with, in my case at least, it means that I don’t have to find space for it on bookshelves that are already full to over-flowing. In addition, if it’s a book to which I might wish to return I’m more likely to have it to hand anywhere if it’s on a device that accompanies me wherever I go. But that isn’t what I do and it doesn’t appear to be what other people do either. I would have asked if this came about because subconsciously we are all aware that we don’t actually own the books that we download, but only have them on lease from whichever company supplied them to us, but from the horrified looks on some of the audience’s faces when this was mentioned it was apparent that they hadn’t realised this was the case.
So, what do you put on your e-reader and why? Is there a distinction between what you download and what you buy as a hard copy? And, if you were forced to save just one format, which would it be?