The Ninjabot

The Geeky Battle of our Times: Paper Books vs. eBooks

Posted on August 12, 2013 at 10:00 am by CJ

College students these day will notice a few classmates using a Nook or a Kindle to read their assigned books, while the rest of the class reads from the traditional paper book and takes notes from a paper notebook in any remaining space of the desk. I expect that in the immediate future the students who use eBooks in class will be the majority. It is not unusual to find users of electronic books in other settings, such as the coffee shop or the subway. The emergence of this new literary medium has old-school geeks on the defensive. Will this mean the extinction of the much beloved physical book? The one you can hold, write on, and smell. The one that has created fond memories during rainy days and long summers. The one that has given geeks a place of refuge from the cold society that they find themselves in. Will the beloved physical book fall victim to the brutal competition that technology has presented it with?

This writer humbly answers “no.”

Let me start the conversation by saying that there is no “battle” between the two mediums. One is not going to finish the other off, so let’s relax book lovers. Just like TV did not get rid of the radio, or just like the internet didn’t get rid of TV, physical books and eBooks have their place in our society.

Let’s recall from history class that books have undergone great transformations throughout the ages. From the Sumerian tablets that kept track of cattle, to the Hebrew Scrolls that recorded their people’s heritage, writing has changed medium, but one thing is certain, writing is still writing, and books are still books. The eBooks that we have these days are just the next step in the book’s constant transformation and improvement.

It is because of such reasons that I don’t approve when people say that they prefer “real” books over eBooks. eBooks are still books, they are just a different literary medium of books.

Wikipedia defines books the following way:

“A book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side.”

If we put on our lawyer’s hat, and bend the language the right way, this certainly applies to eBooks. eBooks certainly are made of “other materials” (electric pulses), and does not need to be “fastened together to hinge at one side” because of the word “usually”, which implies, “not always.” So, eBook users, your much-beloved electric literature does indeed qualify to be considered as a book.

eBooks can be used in a similar way that physical books are used. You can highlight, write comments, look up words, and jump pages to browse. But because of their electronic nature, these things may be done quicker, in a digital way, all the while saving ink and space.

So why not try this medium?

I have heard many times people say that they prefer physical books, and hesitate to use electronic books, because physical books have a unique experience. They like to “feel” the book, and they like to “smell” the book. For me personally, the sound the pages make when they are flipped also adds to the unique experience.

I respect, and to some extent share the views of people who say that physical books are irreplaceable because of the unique reading experience they offer. Indeed, these are things that add to the memorable experiences that one has when reading an awesome book. But I urge people to not let that keep them from using eBooks. Don’t let sentimentality get in the way of a powerful resource. How many books do you need to smell? What is the ratio of importance between a book’s feel and its literary content? eBooks provide the very reason the book was created to begin with, its information. The medium should take a backseat to the knowledge that aids human development and wellbeing.

Physical books are not going away, and their printing will not cease. Just like computers in school have not eliminated the need to have printed essays and assignments to be turned in, people will always want a printed book.

One may counter by saying that back in the days, when the printing press emerged, handwritten books were finished, and that a similar thing may happen to physical books as eBooks emerge.

Not quite.

Modern books are printed with machinery and digital technology. They are created with word processors and printed in automated printing presses. They are part of our technological age, not apart from it. eBook users who get their reading material from Google Books have the option of ordering their selection to be printed if the reader prefers to have a physical copy. I’m sure that many people will want both eBooks and paper books.

Consider the scenario in which you travel to another state to visit a relative. You don’t want to deal with excessive and heavy luggage, so you take your laptop with you so you can read from your online library of eBooks. You now have many titles to choose from to fit your mood. Once you arrive, your relative invites you to an afternoon on the beach. You don’t want your laptop to be exposed to the elements, so you borrow a physical book from your relative and read it at the beach. You now have a comfortable, non-energy consuming, and low-damage medium for your literature.

This scenario is likely to be the reality of thousands of people, and will only multiply in the decades to come. In these days when reading has been one of the least favorite hobbies of our society, we need to let the eBook help us out. Literature, like most everything else, has a profound influence is us as individuals and as a society. There are works that can build up, and there are works that don’t help. Fortunately, eBooks give us free access to the classics that have been a cornerstone in our civilization specifically because they are so ancient and of such legacy that they are in the public domain. You have the chance of reading Plato, Aristotle, the King Jame’s Bible, and other monumental works for free. Classics like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett or Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes are only clicks away. Let’s welcome our new addition to the world of literature, and give the eBook a chance to provide us with a fast, manageable library. If used the right way, I sincerely believe our world will benefit from it.

You can read more from CJ at, or follow him on Twitter at @carlosjalpense as well as follow his YouTube channel, lubicuslatinae.

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