Section: Opinion

Be skeptical of e-readers and electronic books all you want, but make sure it’s not just sentimentalism holding you back

Be skeptical of e-readers and electronic books all you want, but make sure it’s not just sentimentalism holding you back

By Matthew Eley

By Brianna Levesque

People of today are increasingly trading in that beloved old-book smell for a glowing, scentless electronic reader. Consequently, the excuse that a theoretical hungry dog swallowed up your essay is quickly becoming less and less applicable.

As discussed in an Opinions piece published in the Collegian (“Online homework detracts from learning experience,” Oct. 23), the computerization of our age is having an indubitable effect on the classroom experience. Contributor Griffin Burrough ’18 wrote of his frustrations with the growing incorporation of online components of class work, feeling that a reliance on technology over in-person interactions yields an education lacking the constructive personalization a liberal arts college strives to provide.

I understand concerns over this shift from the traditional to technological, for I have them myself. But while the aforementioned article focused on the effect of computerization on the learning process, it brought to my mind another discussion: what are the overall effects on society caused by the switch from paper to electronics?  

On a recent visit to the Kenyon Archives, I was struck by how our relationship with paper and books has been transformed since their advent. There were thousands of yellowed pages lovingly adorned with flourishes of ink and pictures painstakingly crafted for the page, many bound with personalized flair; these books were shown an amount of care absent in the production of books today. These are vestiges of the past. My  English professor [Piers Brown] explained that book history is becoming more popular mainly due to the increasing abandonment of traditional books for electronic options. Certainly, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press of the 15th century was revolutionary, but it seems we are again at a crossroads of information and story and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

On the one hand, I become sentimental about physical books, connected in a way I just can’t experience with an e-reader. There’s something to the character of their pages, the fragrance — new or old — they possess, the tactile pleasure of turning the leaves to reveal a previously undiscovered arrangement of words. I saw an online advertisement for Amazon Kindle Voyage, marketing “effortless page turns.” I’m sorry, but pressing a button or swiping the screen just isn’t the same as the physical cover-to-cover journey.

However, I’m aware that most of this romanticism is simply because this is the way it has always been, and I have a habit of clinging to the familiar for no reason other than its familiarity. Reading is constructed in our collective memories as a certain experience — a process that is currently undergoing slight alteration. For books to become e-readers, and for us to accept the evolution, it’s going to take a measure of letting go.

Of course, the effects of this technological movement are not limited to personal experience: supporting one industry over the other has vast environmental and economic impacts, the effects of which are currently debatable. The digitization of books is a relatively new phenomenon and I’m in no position to fully endorse either side until more definitive comparisons of the pros and cons of each are established. When that day comes, I am prepared as an environmentalist to support whichever product is kindest to the planet and the future.

If the balance points toward letting go of traditional books, I will make the transition. However, it won’t be easy for me if this is what the future holds, and there will be a significant portion of the population who will also feel a twinge of nostalgia at the mention of a glossy book jacket or quirky bookmark.

We will just have to remind ourselves that although the exterior process of reading may change, the immutable, interior magic a story is capable of creating is still present — no matter how we turn the page.

Brianna Levesque ’17 is an English major from Medford, Ore. Contact her at


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