Would a print-free world be such a bad thing?

January 20, 2011
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With e-readers like Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle becoming popular, we book-lovers are bound to wonder if paper will become as uncommon as Sumerian adobe tablets. And if this is inevitable, is a print free world such a bad thing after all?
I’ve tried using the Kindle. I found that while I was reading I had no sense of where I was in the book, and that was disconcerting. Yes, there is a bar at the bottom showing how much you’ve read, but there is something wrong with not being able to physically feel how far you’ve gotten.
Though I have not used an iPad to read an entire book, I think the same would be true. Even so, the iPad has some major advantages. We can all agree that the Kindle is not a pretty device. The iPad, like most Apple products, is a classic: clean, bold, sleek and polished. The touch screen with full color draws the eye, whereas the Kindle, bland and practical, tends to seem less glamorous. The iPad is also multifunctional; buy a Kindle and you get a reader, buy an iPad, and you get a device that can provide games, movies, browsing and more—all in one. So why do I like the Kindle? The Kindle looks more like a book, and for all the other cool things an iPad can do, I own a laptop.
Have you ever stared at a computer for a long time and found you were disoriented after looking up? Now imagine reading books on devices like a computer screen. Ouch. We’d all be blind by the time we finished high school. The E-Ink technology used on the Kindle simulates printed-paper better than any other e-reader, though it’s difficult to say which device causes more eye strain. Journalist Geoffrey A. Fowler recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the difference between screens ultimately boils down to subtle personal preferences.” If the world is completely lacking books at some point in the future, my personal preferences scream “Kindle all the way, baby!”
Then of course there is the argument of environmental friendliness. At a glance, once might think paper books are less eco-friendly because e-readers don’t consume paper, but it isn’t that simple. In a recent New York Times article, How Green Is My iPad?, Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris claim the impact of one e-reader on the environment equals roughly the impact of 50-100 books. Due to nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions, the health impacts from producing one e-reader are around 70 times larger than those from making one book. Until we find a more eco-friendly way to produce e-readers, I won’t consider it more sustainable than a book.
I would be devastated without my books. Sure, e-readers make it easier to transport and store books, but there are irreplaceable things in the experience of reading a printed book. Paper books just feel right in your hands; even the best-designed e-reader is a cold, lifeless, mechanical contraption. Not even the iPad’s clever page-turning simulation can change that. You can’t become attached to a machine as you can a copy of your favorite novel or a well-thumbed book of poetry. The memories my worn-out books stir up whenever I pick one up can never be replaced.
But just because I would not be able to live in a print-free era doesn’t mean future generations couldn’t. The technological advances we’ve made are beyond fantastic, and though it is difficult to imagine, there will come a day where paper books are relics of the past.

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