Something digital this way come: on joys and perils of reading

Something digital this way comes.

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It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged, that book stores are some of the most calming of places. Okay, okay, maybe I am one of the selected adepts of book therapy, yet the whole debate that digital libraries will soon take over leaves me and many bookworms quite plainly irritated.

Books smell of adventures, and memories, and the passing of time, people that you used to know and ways you used to be, and every day, they say, real books – and their understanding – are menaced by the advent of digital publishing. Kindles and Kobos top the Christmas wish lists, books are downloaded and self-published online by the millions, while the screens give modern children an addiction, which most bookworms would call positively frightening. So where will we, humble compulsive readers stand in the next few years? And are things really all that simple?

Simple joys of reading

Beast reading It’s October, and I am back to Chisinau for the first time in over a year, I am back home. Everyone’s asleep and me – I stand by the bookshelf, caressing the dearly-missed volumes and sniffing a Bloomsburry first edition of Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. Yes, I am all that strange!

Book business in Moldova has come a long way, yet in many ways it stalled. Ten years ago, books in Romanian were hard to come by, books in Russian sometimes took months to arrive on the market and books in English were either unavailable or infinitely too expensive. Ordering online off Amazon or other stores remained, equally, a luxury for the selected few. This is why, the act of buying a book meant responsibility. As if you were buying a pet that would bring you happiness and nurture your knowledge about life, but you had to really commit yourself and know what you’re in for. When new books were scarce, every crease of the cover became a tiny tragedy and every take on reading was undertaken with meticulous care. Books were not to be damaged. That’s how it worked in our family.

After years of deprivation during my Bc. studies, when most of my library remained exiled at home, I finally got my hands on a Kindle. That strange and mystical device I honestly haven’t even heard of before I left home at 19.I couldn’t bring a truckload of books with me, when I moved away to study. Nor could I really afford to keep the books that I bought while away. After graduation, I once again had to head home to figure out what to do with my life… When Paris came along, Kindle changed everything.

The art of reading on the metro.

 bcn-metro-readingThe French read on the metro, a lot. Paperbacks, mostly, but quite a few e-readers as well. Pulling out an e-reader or a tablet on a busy trains isn’t considered risky, it is a norm, especially when the road to work or study would take some 40 minutes at best. While at uni, my daily commute came down to 1,5 hours, leaving me with at least 1,5 hours of reading every day. With all the studying and part-time job (or sometime two), that was, almost, paradise.

I loved my Kindle Touch because it brought back reading into my life, it made traveling more enjoyable and moving easier, and, quite importantly, it allowed me change the size of the fonts, allowing me to take it easy on my already short-sighted eyes.

I started to read, on the metro, on the bus, while waiting in line or waiting for somebody… Forty seven books in my first year of Kindle ownership. Leaving the house without Kindle became unthinkable, and yet, it did not even remotely come close to replacing books. Owning an e-reader taught me that you don’t have to refuse one for the sake of the other. Yet, according to studies, reading from a screen could be disastrous when it comes to attention (and eyesight too, that’s a tried and tested personal observation), which I, personally, haven’t yet come to observe.

Case of Devil is in the details or somebody lost the plot. 

 Water book pages GIFOnce upon a time, there happened something I can’t quite remember… The growth of digital device ownership, especially in the developed countries, as well as the increasing complexity of modern education reignited the scientific research and debates on the benefits of digital reading.

According to a recent study undertaken by Stavanger University of Norway, reading of a Kindle screen affects the reader’s understanding of the timeline of the story.

Other studies using iPads and computer screens suggest that such manner of reading hinders the understanding of the text altogether. Digital devices teach our brains to skim through large portions of text and attempt to pick out  essence, leading to a disastrous consequence explaining the findings at Stavager University. Our brain picks out the facts and events, tossing them into our memory in a slightly random order. In the end, all we get is a plot that is there, but not really…  In the long-term, the effects on education could be drastic.

However, the fact that digital texts make education and pleasure accessible should not be overlooked. The price of e-readers and tablets is going down, slowly making them affordable for underprivileged students and readers across the world.

Written words are spreading and the advent of the digital age leaves readers no choice. Whether bookworms or simple students, we will increasingly face the pressure of bi-literacy. Book vs. paper is no longer a debate, it is a matter of co-existence and personal preference.

P.S. Paper books FTW 

book pages in the wind

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