Those of us who still hold fast to our paper books are well aware that they're often heavy, clunky, awkward, and far more expensive than their digital counterparts. Yet we hold onto our paper tomes tighter than the reins of a unicorn's bridle. And the more someone tries take away what we love, the harder we tighten our grips. (Never mind your stance on unicorns.)
For technophobes like me who are both mistrustful of and baffled by modern technology, books remain a last bastion against a world that's plugged in and connected 24/7. A printed book is not going to try to sell you things when you just want to find out what all this 50 Shades of Grey fuss is about. A printed book won’t need charging or die right when you’re in the middle of one of those awkward 50 Shades of Grey sex scenes that make you realize the book is more about pain than pleasure. A printed book won’t freeze mid-download when you realize 50 Shades of Grey is an absurd waste of time and decide to seek out something more, erm, stimulating.
This does not mean, of course, that printed books don’t have their own disadvantages. No matter how much we sing their praises, we borderline Luddites know that being a book-loving technophobe comes with its own unique set of challenges:
1. Packing books for a trip
For a book-lover, there is no fear quite like the one that you will run out of reading material mid-vacation (I mean, what would you do while you're chilling on the beach/pool deck/lakefront? Just sit there?). Of course, you also probably don't have the space/money/superior arm strength to pack a whole extra suitcase full of books. Suddenly you're locked in your own personal Sophie's Choice — which books do you bring, and which do you leave behind?
You pack books, unpack them, and re-pack them. You briefly turn into Will Hunting trying to calculate how many pages you can read per hour versus how much time each day you'll spend reading multiplied by how long your trip is, and finally decide you don't really need that extra pair of shoes, but you definitely need to bring your complete Harry Potter set, in case the spirit moves you to re-read the series for the 12th time.
2. Moving, then storing, your books
Like packing books for vacation, but on steroids. Clearly you can't leave anything behind, so that means you're putting all of your books in boxes, carrying them downstairs to a moving truck, then carrying them upstairs from said moving truck into your dwelling, where the real fun begins — figuring out where the hell to put them all. When I moved into my apartment two years ago, the only thing that was more of a pain in the ass to carry than my numerous boxes of books was a heavy wooden chest of drawers that's been in my family for three generations; like my books, a relic of a bygone time from which I can't be parted.
3. The very real fear that all of the bookstores will disappear in your lifetime
I still remember the first time I went to a Barnes & Noble. I was 10 years old. It was somewhere in Midtown Manhattan, and it was three stories (THREE STORIES) full of books. It was the mothership calling me home, and it put the middling mall Waldenbooks I had grown up with to shame.
Twenty years later, that Waldenbooks is closed, and probably that Barnes & Noble is too. E-books, as well as online and big-box retailers, have taken big bites out of the business of brick and mortar bookstores; Borders and its subsidiary Waldenbooks are long gone, and Barnes & Noble has experienced its own share of struggles in recent years. Local independent bookstores are getting creative about survival tactics, but their numbers are dwindling as well. New technology is now threatening indie bookstores.
Although I'm sure I'm being overly anxious about the extinction of brick and mortar bookstores (as I am about most things), the thought of not being able to wander into a bookstore, whether it's a chain or independently owned, and feel the warm, comforting embrace of literature makes me die a little inside.
4. Wondering how the next generation of bibliophiles will discover books
A large part of my love for books comes from the fact that I grew up surrounded by reading material: the books, newspapers, and magazines that were scattered throughout my house like Solo cups after a frat party. With the proliferation of e-readers and tablets, and the way reading material is concentrated on that single (expensive and fragile) device, I imagine that's happening less and less. Sure, a curious child might pick up an e-reader and browse through it (Lord knows she'll probably know how to use it better than I would), but if it's kept somewhere out of reach, there won't be an opportunity for it to pique a kid's interest the way a glossy, colorful magazine or book on a coffee table might. Considering that literacy rates in the U.S. have been stagnating for a decade, the idea of children having less incentive to discover and develop a love for books is not just disheartening, but alarming.
5. Feeling guilty about all the trees you've killed with your book addiction
Look, I remember Fern Gully as well as any other child of the '90s. I know that deforestation is bad for land, air, humans, etc., and digital books take all of that out of the equation. Of course, the technophobe in me is equally aware of the negative side effects (including ones we haven't even discovered yet) of all this allegedly wonderful technology. And since there are already millions upon millions of books printed, we may as well honor the valiant trees that gave their lives for them by buying and reading them, right?
6. Finding time to go to the library to physically check out and return books
Libraries are the most magical places on Earth — all books, all free, all the time! — once you're inside, that is. It's getting there that's the challenge. Between jobs, school, personal and social obligations, reading time — and that your nearest library may have reduced hours or be located far from the rest of your life – getting to the library on a regular basis may have you feeling a lot like this:
Of course, if we could get this to happen in America, it would take some of the pressure off, at least in the summertime.
7. Constantly being asked why you don't have an e-reader
Oh, so there's this thing that's like a computer, but for books? And you can store thousands of them on it, and download more instantly for a fraction of the cost of a printed book?
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I should get an e-reader... well, I'd be able to buy a lot more books than I already do. Yes, I know that having a Kindle would solve problems Nos. 1-6. Yes, I know e-readers are relatively inexpensive now. Yes, I know I could have 10 times the number of books I currently own... and no, Mom, I do not want one for my birthday this year.
8. Resigning yourself to the fact that you will eventually have to get an e-reader
In my lifetime I've gone from cassettes to CDs to an iPod; from a clunky desktop to a sleek laptop; just this year, I finally traded in my antique-y slider phone for a smartphone ... so I've been to this rodeo before. The tides of technology are surging ever faster, and whatever the tipping point is — practicality, money, body snatchers — I know I'm inching closer to it daily.
9. Imagining the daunting task of downloading all the books you already own in digital format
Then again, maybe not. Because no matter how pretty and shiny that Kindle is, no matter how many books it can hold, it will never be as dear to you as those heavy, clunky, awkward old friends with the colorful, tattered covers and yellowing, dog-eared pages from all the wonderful times you spent together.