To Print or Not to Print: That is The Question.
The Balance Between Printed and Digitized Knowledge or Why Hardcover Books Should Remain in My Future.
I sat at the table of my favorite boho coffeehouse, sipping my salted caramel latte and reading a hardcover collection of short stories “Fictions” by Jorge Luis Borges. I suddenly looked around because I felt it was unusually quiet for the café atmosphere: a few people were chatting in the corner, but others… were they also reading books like me? Not sure about books, it was difficult to discern as they were simply glued to their phones (social networks, huh?). That feeling of being awkwardly special overwhelmed me. I thought to myself, “Well, time traveler, have you forgotten your home epoch? It seems you don’t belong here.” Alright, I also own a smartphone, a laptop, and an E-reader… I’m not so anachronistic as… I wanted to be. I always felt out of place in the “ghastly” Information Age and my book preferences prove it: E. T. A. Hoffmann, W. B. Yeats, Edgar Poe, Gustav Meyrink, Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, Hermann Hesse, Charles Baudelaire, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Dylan Thomas, and many others who never transcended the border of the XXI century (and even if they did, their main masterpieces remained the heritage of the previous epoch). There’s one more thing about my passionate attitude to the books of these knights of the pen: I cannot read them in the digital format. They are given a special place on my bookshelf, and I reach out to these literary gems whenever I feel the urge to reread them or simply to find a random paragraph that will become a meaningful prediction of the day. Somehow, a book you especially revere is able to provide incredible forecasts and even admonitions related to your nearest future. Once you decipher its hidden essence and allow it to go beyond the bounds of the deepest corners of your mind, the beloved folio becomes alive as your faithful mysterious friend that says so many important things and, at the same time, remains silent forever. Bookworms know what I’m talking about: every time you open your favorite book, the world you existed in a second ago – dissolves. This is not a book anymore – it is a sacred chest of treasures, a wondrous maze of secret pathways to the subconscious desires, cherished dreams, surreal fantasies, untold fears, and high hopes. Seemingly, words and meanings they create are all that matter, so what’s the use of whining about the digitized reality, what’s wrong with using e-books, don’t they contain the same knowledge?
I asked my friend, a desperate bibliophile, the same question, and he said, “I will never fall in love with a robot. I will always prefer an alive woman with her imperfections. The same is with books. I need to hold it, to feel how I turn its pages, to smell it. The paper is fragile, and so are we. Printed volumes resemble humans who wrote them and humans who read them. Such books even grow old together with us. I don’t read electronic books because they are only shadows trapped in a cold device.” This explanation is not convincing, but it is heartfelt. Someone may say that old-fashioned bookworms appeal merely to the aesthetics and express an uncanny hedonism related to hardcover editions, and nothing more. The others will condemn “unprogressive” booklovers for neglecting environment, namely the trees that turn into books. Ironically, the same reprovers may buy expensive wooden furniture or have wood-burning fireplaces in their houses. Not all of them. I understand the eco-friendly claims in favor of e-books. My bookworm’s heart is tormented all the time because I love trees and I often read in their shadow in spring and summer. Perhaps, my inner time-traveler should embrace the benefits of the epoch I currently live in – can’t technology help us create a seamless alternative to the paper made of trees? Indeed, it can, but the main focus of the globalized world is still on the advancements of the Artificial Intelligence.
Wood-Free Paper Already Exists
Recycled materials are not something out of this world – they are widely used in architecture, manufacture of clothes, there are even edible food bags, so why not enhance the production of tree-free paper books globally? Luckily, such inventions are not fantasies, but each and every bookish community must join forces and contribute to the promotion of the paper that has nothing to do with cutting trees. This idea is not utopian because the statistics show that I and my friend are not the ones who plead to preserve the ancient tradition of libraries with an abundance of folios and simultaneously employ modern thinking to eradicate the flaws of paper production. Cozy bookshops, gentle reminders of olden times, peacefully exist beside technologies. It's time for them to coexist wisely.
Technically, the wood-free paper that is produced nowadays also has a tree origin, namely pulpwood. However, this is a chemical pulp that is almost devoid of its timber components. In the future, it might be possible to produce an alternative material that would save even more trees. Hopefully, this material won’t be synthetic as we have one more peculiar option of making paper – by growing certain plants. The main drawback of herbal fibers is that it takes much time to harvest and process them, so it’s not very suitable for printing books, but the bright idea and the wish to implement it can do wonders, especially in such a versatile smart epoch we live in. So, I envision the future where books will be made from grass, leaves, other amazing herbs, as well as unharmful artificial substances. It has frequently been the right choice to combine the wisdom of the past with the inventive potential of the present day.Optimistic Future Pays Heed to Diversity. Printed, Electronic, and Audio Books Should Equally Remain.
As a booklover with vintage tastes, I prefer printed collections, but I also gladly listen to audio books and read electronic incarnations of my paper friends when it’s difficult to find my longed-for written gem in original. For language learners, craving to understand favorite writers in original, audio and e-books are godsends. It saves your time because you don’t immerse in long searches for their printed versions. Even if you find the desired hardcover book, in most cases, it will cost much more as it will be delivered from a foreign country: this way, you also save money. Nonetheless, I must confess if I easily find a printed version in original, I’d rather pay for the copy. Such obsession with printed exemplars is related to literature, primarily classic fiction. On another note, in my professional sphere, I light-heartedly absorb the material from electronic and audio books. The tactile charms are simply unnecessary when you read about psychology or marketing strategies or even when you cram a new lovely language by studying a textbook. By the way, I adore to write my thoughts down during the learning process, using genuine paper and pen, but I’ll share my ideas and worries regarding everything handwritten in the next article. Now my worries are about the future of printed books.
A Small Dystopian Fantasy. When Printed Books (and everything else) Became Illusions.
An excerpt from the diary of Livrella3019, a human being of the future.
Our reality is not censored, but it is sensored… Yes, sensors are everywhere, and we easily got used to it. Paradoxically, though the underlying stem of the word “sensor” is sense: it has almost nothing to do with senses, which have been immensely benumbed for the sake of “the global holographication of the useless materialistic items”, as the Initiators named it. This is my confession, my awakening, my self-realization in the world you cannot touch. I work in the HoloLibrary – the colossal storage of knowledge. As a bibliophile, I had to be happy to work there and I was… until weird dreams about ancient printed books started haunting me. In one of those visions, my fingers !touched! a paper page, and I suddenly felt this obsolete scent of books made of pulpwood. My mind traveled back in time to find something precious I have long forgotten. I held a palpable book in my hands when I was a child… Where can I find at least one nowadays? That’s a secret I must disclose…
We haven’t burned books according to the plot of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”, but one day, all old-world tomes disappeared, or rather were replaced with more “convenient versions”. We can still read archaic creations in the state-of-the-art formats of modern times. Our libraries are growing immensely but books have been altered – they became fully holographic. These multi-dimensional specters were impressive when created for the first time, but now everyone owns them, so they became usual. You can switch your book on and you can switch it off, you don’t feel its weight, and you can read any book you want not carrying any device. It’s done by dint of multifunctional chips inserted into all the surrounding objects. Their special sensors can make practically anything three-four-five-six-seven… - dimensional – that depends on the number of sensopoints you have earned while accomplishing your routine tasks. I’m mostly concerned about books, but the thing is, our world is gradually becoming holographic and all crucial technological investigations are concentrated on improving the possibilities of sensors. Do you remember old personal computers, smartphones, and other similar devices? They’re deemed outmoded and redundant. We have multidimensional equivalents of every single material thing, except food, though our diets have been greatly simplified in comparison to those strange culinary cravings of our ancestors. We drink sun energy instead of coffee, but you can select a package of illusive tastes, which reproduce food preferences you’re nostalgic for. People of the HoloAge still live in the material houses but we do not need to decorate them with physical things – holograms can replace almost all items, even our floating beds are partly holographic. The visual walls can turn into any season, any country, they can talk with you and share the latest news, filling your life with more and more intangible features… and I was happy with it until I sensed the smell of books, where did it come from, was it just a memory?...
I came to work again, to this sanctuary of illusions. The colorful folios glitter on their shelves, some books even fly, some escape when you want to catch them, but when you hold one of those books, you don’t feel anything – it’s just a visual effect. Nevertheless, everyone should be energy-conscious, so holograms have to be switched off on a regular basis. I think I’m falling ill because anxiety overwhelms me when my work hours end – it means I have to disconnect the HoloLibrary. I approach the Principal Sensor and shut the bookish storage down. That’s it. An empty hall with plastic walls – no sounds, no colors, no books… I desperately need to find a book I can touch because those illusions are unbearable. Suddenly, a horrible insight pierced through my whole essence – I remembered one more missing thing – mirrors, why don’t we have mirrors? I realized I haven’t seen my face for ages… I looked down at my hands... HOLOGRAMS!...
BACK TO REALITY
Our world, though globalized and technologically advanced, possesses elements of a towering spirit thus far. Almost every country reflects harmonious unification of treasures of the past and novelties of the present. We’re not holographic creatures. Not yet. It’s still impossible to endow the artificial intelligence with the properties of human DNA or make robots feel and think they are people, but who can guarantee that something like that won’t happen in the future? Science fiction easily becomes reality on the planet where technological progress already surpassed the expectations of the past decades. When thinking about the probable disappearance of printed books, just imagine the same scenario regarding other things that were traditionally valued. We already behave like robots when being glued to our smartphones, we ruin the most important conversations when grinning at silly memes or enviously viewing Instagram photos of affluent strangers instead of looking into our friends’ eyes and discussing all joys and sorrows, true dreams and plans. Technologies facilitated our lives but, at the same time, they made us (in)different. A modern person often prefers a cheap movie to an intelligent book, a virtual chat with a stranger to a spirit-stirring walk with a friend.
In those beautiful times, when tears were as sincere as smiles, having a book by your side already meant pure delight! If old hardcover gems start to disappear, the intellectual apocalypse will be near.
Despite the exaggeration, I can say for sure – humanity without printed books will never be the same again.