I love books. Not just reading them, but the physical books themselves. I love the feel of the cover. I love flipping to the last page to see how many pages there are so I know if I want to read faster or slower. I love the way books look on a bookshelf or stacked in a bookstore. I love lending books and borrowing books. I love bookstores, especially the smell of the brand new books in them.
So you can imagine my dismay when I first heard that there existed a device called the Kindle that allowed you to download and store books so that you would never have to buy a paper book again in your life. “But I don’t like reading from a computer screen,” I’ve said to Kindle-owners, who only reply that the kindle screen actually looks like a page from a book. Upon observation, I have to admit that the screen does, in fact, look identical to a page from a book. What else can I argue? That there is no cover to look at? No smell to smell? Nothing to pass on to a friend after finishing? These complaints seem beside the point. Who cares about a book’s smell when you can download unlimited books, each for less money than they are in a bookstore and travel with only a small, flat screen device to wile away the time?
Forget about convenience — the Kindle and its more complicated cousin, Apple’s I-Pad, save trees! I would not argue if you called them genius inventions for this reason alone. But do you really get as wonderful an experience as you do when you read from a book? My own mother argues that yes, your experience is actually enhanced. You can look up words in the story by clicking on them and then viewing a Wikipedia explanation. When reading a historical fiction book, for instance, you can find out with the tap of your finger everything you need to know about Henry VIII.
So, you save yourself some hassle, you save trees and your experience is enhanced. Clearly, it’s hard to argue against the Kindle and the I-Pad. But is your experience the same? Are you experiencing the book as its author meant for you to experience it? Is William Faulkner rolling over in his grave rather than lying in it now that The Sound and the Fury can be read off a computer screen? Frankly, I think he might be. I don’t mean that I would trade books for trees. I just think that it is important to recognize that reading, with its most basic pleasures, may be gone forever with the introduction of these devices. Even though the points are stacked in favor of this gleaming technology, it nevertheless represents the deterioration of an art form.
Is the Kindle the only culprit? What about TiVo? Is the convenience of recording television resulting in the destruction of television as it was meant to be watched? TiVo means no more excited anticipation during commercial breaks of a program, no more channel flipping that may lead to the discovery of new programs and possibly less television-centered human bonding. When you can record shows, families make less of an effort to watch programs together at a designated time. Each person watches a show when it suits him best. In my family, for instance, I can’t count the number of times the phrase, “Make sure you don’t delete the new episode” is said a week.
But I love TiVo. Right now, I don’t want a kindle. But I also didn’t want a cell phone in seventh grade, an I-Pod in high school or a Mac as a college freshman. And am I a cell phone-less, I-Pod-less, Mac-less senior? No, I’m not. I could easily own a Kindle in the future. I am not trying to trash technology. In fact, where would art be without it? Books and television clearly wouldn’t be around in the first place. I simply suggest that because the essence of technology is achieving a maximum level of efficiency and pleasure, art forms are evolving to the point that they are unrecognizable from their original conception.
While I (eventually) embrace technological advances as much as the next person, I think that it is important not to let art in its earlier forms become extinct in our fast-paced technological world. If you are a Kindle owner, try picking up an actual book once in a while. If you are a TiVo fanatic, flip through the channels once in a while, or get together with your family and friends to watch a show at its designated time (yes, with commercials). It won’t hurt to appreciate art in its older forms as well as in its newest ones. You might actually find that older art forms can provide you with a pleasure that newer ones cannot, even if it’s as seemingly insignificant as a smell.