Digital vs. Physical: Print Books and Physical Presence Being Replaced?

In the midst of the rise of ebooks, I’ve heard some buzz among authors lately, saying that print books are out. “Don’t bother getting hard copies of your books published! As long as they’re available electronically, you’re good.”

I can’t say that I agree with that.

Ebooks are great. They’re convenient, cost effective, and don’t take up the physical space that books in print do. I download them, read them, publish them–but perhaps it’s the sentimental part of me that still prefers physical books, to have and to hold. Shopping online for ebooks and going out to browse the shelves at a local bookstore on a leisurely afternoon are two different experiences. YES, I’m a curl-up-on-the-couch-with-a-good-book type, and when it comes to the curl-up, print suits me better than digital. I like to smell my books, to flip through the pages. I know I’m not the only reader who still enjoys that.

Again, that may be sentimental, but where would humanity be without a place for sentiment?

And, sentiment aside, as an author, I think it’s important to still have hard copies of the work you put your lifeblood, sweat, time, and tears into. Electronics have glitches and shutdowns, sometimes nationwide and even international ones. Computers crash, digital files disappear, apps act funny. “My laptop froze.” “I updated my operating system, and it deleted my contacts.” “We’re sorry, our computers are down today. We hope to have these technical difficulties resolved by tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.” “Something is wrong with my cellphone.” “Wind storms have left the whole neighborhood without power. It’ll be a while before I can recharge all of my batteries…and access all of my digital stuff.”

Besides, there are many books that need to be passed down to children, to succeeding generations. Are ebooks, PDFs, and all things digital truly going to cut it, when it comes to the generational transfer of literature, both in professional and familial situations? I think focusing solely on ebooks isn’t the broadest way to think or plan, considering the long run.

As digital pictures posted online and stored on hard drives haven’t done away with physical photographs and oil paintings to view and appreciate in physical settings, I don’t believe electronic books will (or should) totally replace or do away with the need for (and the appeal of) physical books. Even if there comes a time when paperbacks in particular may phase out, I don’t think hard copies of literature will disappear altogether.

And, on another note, indeed, I’m all for digital interaction: emails, text messages, IMs, social networking sites, blogs and chats. But, hey, we’re still human, with human bodies and senses. We still have faces; emails and text messages are an addition to, not an ultimate replacement for, face to face interaction. An emoticon or an instant-messaged “smiley” doesn’t replace seeing someone’s actual smile, doesn’t replace an actual handshake or a hug.

Even on a level that isn’t as personal, the fact that fans purchase, download, and listen to their favorite artists’ music on their own doesn’t mean that they’ll never want to go to a concert to see and hear the artists in person. In our human experience, there’s something different and needful about physically being there. I think the same goes for authors and readers: while blog tours are becoming increasingly popular, I don’t think they can totally replace meeting an author or a reader face to face, like at a book signing or reading, making eye contact and being present to interact with another person.

Being able to Skype in to a meeting is a wonderful tool, getting your face and voice in on the action simultaneously, but even if I was a digitally savvy teenager, getting ready to graduate from high school, I wouldn’t be pleased to hear, “Instead of having a ceremony that everyone physically comes to, how about if the graduating class, along with their friends and families, just Skype in to watch the principal and the school district superintendent make speeches from the high school auditorium? With ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ playing in the background of the broadcast, it’ll be just as good as a graduation ceremony.”

Instead of having the family get together for the holidays, would it truly be just as satisfying if the various branches of the family merely Skyped in to Grandma’s house to watch her cook in the kitchen and to see her sit by the Christmas tree with Grandpa, onscreen? A baby would be in serious emotional and developmental trouble if his parent(s) or guardian(s) smiled and cooed at him from a computer screen all the time but he was never touched, held, or talked to in person. If I was a bride, I wouldn’t want to Skype in to my own wedding–and definitely not my honeymoon. Digital goes as far as it goes, but there are times when a human being simply must be physically present with other human beings.

A digital world doesn’t replace the need for the physical one. We, as humankind, can and should continue to leave room in our lives for both.

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Author, editor, and speaker Nadine Keels of Seattle, Washington is best known for The Song of Nadine, the lyrical poetry seen in two of her books and heard in her spoken word presentations. Nadine has written two novels, Yella’s Prayers and World of the Innocent; a reference for writers entitled Write Your Genius, Genius!: A Rather Quick Guide to Book Writing; and she also writes short stories and articles for children. Nadine has served as editor and co-editor for a number of titles, and she is the founder of Prismatic Prospects, a communication company based in Seattle. Find Nadine online at www.prismaticprospects.wordpress.com