Paper books or e-Books? Which are better?
Several months ago, I visited Santa Cruz, a small coastal community south of the San Francisco Bay Area. As I sauntered past a Catholic Church having a rummage sale, I stopped to take a look at the hard cover paper books.
I found a copy of Dale Carnegie‘s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” only a dollar, a steal. I bought it, brought it home and recently started reading it.
As I held the book in my hands, turned the pages, felt the remarkable texture of paper and read, a strange feeling of wonder and fond memories of childhood came over me–something I hadn’t felt for years. Paper books had reappeared in my life.
Richard MacManus writes about this in his “Five Ways that Paper Books are Better than ebooks.” He compares his experiences reading paper vs. digital books in five areas: Feel, packaging, sharing, keeping and second-hand book stores. His piece reminds me about my visits to used book stores years ago.
Paper Books in our Lives
Light from my floor lamp dances across the pages. Dark ink on bright white paper delights my eyes. Turning each page produces an unmistakable sound. Something about paper books–not digital e-books–causes deju vu. Days of my childhood reading books in a library floats through my brain. It’s remarkable. Reading paper books causes primal memories to emerge in my mind.
Despite the coffee stains, page tears and notes left by readers, paper books make me feel nostalgic for relics of my past.
Dale Carnegie published “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” in 1944. My copy was re-printed in 1984 (George Orwell would have loved the year). Whoever previously owned my book didn’t make a single notation, mark or leave a curled page. The binding was tight like a new book. The book’s flaws, if any, compared to an e-book’s perfections, didn’t bother me, except for the lack of underlining and notes that outline great content in books.
Digital Book Imperfections and Reflected Light
But digital e-books have imperfections too. Software mimics turning pages. Electronic bookmarks on an iPad pale by comparison to a paper bookmark, full of memories that enhance reading enjoyment.
Antoher difference is lack of reflected light when reading. Electronic readers–except the black and white Kindle and Nook–are back-lit like computer screens, even television. Without going into the physics of reflected light, understand that as light reaches an object–like a paper book–it’s reflected back in multiple directions. Your eyes use the reflected light to see printed type.
Do you remember ever reading a book in a dark room with a flashlight? Not very easy, right? That’s because, unlike a table lamp, light is reflected only from the area covered by the flashlight as you move it across the page.
Now compare back-lit tablet computers, mobile phones and other digital devices. In bright sunshine, paper books are easy to read since they rely on reflected light. But reading type on an iPad, or other back-lit device makes it difficult outdoors. The type is not reflected back to your eyes.
A Universe of Reflected Light
Stare at the full moon. Take a hike through a forest. Walk into your kitchen. You’re experiencing a universe of reflected light. Everything your eye sees in the natural world is due to reflected light. The Universe is not backlit. And because of that fact, paper books are easier to read than e-books.
Does this mean the end of digital books and other publications? Just the opposite. e-Books are capturing the market as paper book sales drop. Computer and mobile device screens strain the eyes by causing us to blink less as we stare at back-lit screens. However, desktop and mobile devices aren’t going away soon.
Despite technology’s constant forward movement, though, we can–and should–escape our digital world regularly. Read a good paper book lately?
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