Originally posted at : https://lastredoubt.substack.com/p/old-ways
Paper has a lot of problems. It’s bulky. It catches fire. More to the point, if I want to send something on paper to Japan, it can cost a pretty penny - for whatever those are worth today.
Yet I find myself buying physical copies of things - even things that I have backed up from Kindle to EPUB if I truly care about it and backed p yet again offsite - because paper, and physical media in general, has several advantages.
First there’s the spiritual, emotional, immaterial and even practical aspects of using physical media. Sure, I can search a PDF for every instance of a word, or follow a well-placed link in the table of contents, and zoom - but when I need something to the side as a reference and I don’t have my two or three monitor setup at hand, a physical book copy I can keep open, and flip back and forth between relevant pages, starts to make sense.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve stacked up my tabbed ACKs or Traveller books on my desk as a reference despite a second screen and PDF copy open.
There is also the fact that a book has weight, texture, smell. It just needs a source of light, no battery that needs charging. It won’t white out in the sun or be lost in the glare. And yes, some of these are addressed or mitigated in some reader designs. Sure, if I go on vacation, I’ll have a tablet or phone loaded with a number of books I’m reading, and I usually do bring a paperback as well. But for sitting in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee or tea at hand on a stormy night?
At one time I believed that books were just ideas, and it didn’t matter how you had those words presented to you. Yet a lifetime of experience now tells me that the process and ritual itself is a part of and improves the experience. Just like handwriting notes yields better results in studying than typing them.
And sometimes, the medium is the message - or a part of it.
There is also a very real way that books, CDs, etc., are less destructible. Sure they can catch fire and fall to mold and mildew. Bluntly - any hard drive or memory stick is equally or more fragile under similar circumstances, and more to the point can catch fire under normal use from mere equipment or electrical failure far more easily than paper. I still remember losing a 5-1/4 floppy with a set of Wizardry characters on it when my brother spilled sprite on it.
They are also more sensitive to physical damage, degradation of information on the media over time such as bit rot, and in some cases, even backups and more modern filesystems with self-repair may not help. Fortunately raw text, EPUB, and PDF are open and stable standards, but try finding a device that can read a 2000-era IDE hard drive.
I’ve got a LOT of books on my shelf twice as old from my parents and my high school days. I’ve walked through library stacks with books decades and even centuries old.
There is also the sheer glut - the ease of tucking files into a folder and forgetting about them over time yields an uncontrollable mess you’d rarely - I’ve seen a couple of hoarders - see at home with physical objects. Just the clutter and inability to get around would force most people to get at least partially organized. It’s soooo easy to keep things around “in case” , much more out of sight and out of mind.
Finally - there is the reason all of my kindle books are backed up to another format. The reason I want to keep hard copies of works as I read and enjoyed them. Because our history and culture are being rewritten.
The first book removed from the Amazon Kindle, I’m reminded, was Orwell’s 1984.
Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, and others are having their work completely rewritten by “sensitivity readers” to strip out anything that may offend modern tastes, a trend that owes nearly as much to Farenheit 451 as it does to 1984’s memory hole.
And you may disagree with me that the new versions remove something vital, adulterate the prose, even fundamentally change the meaning and import of the plot. Fine. You have your version - what happens when fashions change yet again, in either direction, and it’s updated (or reverted) once more?
I want to preserve the books that gave me joy. Tolkein, Haggard, Vance, Simmons, and others. I want a copy that won’t be updated out from under me, and with the care provided to an average home, can be passed on.
Books are a legacy.