For the second consecutive holiday season, I have the same item on my gift list – an Amazon Kindle.
It’s written in pencil. Very faintly. With an asterisk and a question mark next to it. And it’s been erased and re-written several times.
As a one-time newspaper journalist, I’ve been able to deal remarkably well with the slow death of print newspapers in favor of online editions. (I’m a little less okay with the newspapers that have perished entirely, but there are dozens of examples spanning decades I also can point to including the first paper I ever read, the long lost Herald Examiner in Los Angeles.) It’s much, much easier to click on a bookmark and get the day’s local news at a glance. ESPN takes care of all I need in the sports arena, though I have to admit I stopped reading baseball box scores a) when they’re online and not in print and b) when they started to include everything short of the pitcher’s blood pressure when he threw a pitch.
Books, though … that’s a different story. I cringe when I see my kids looking words up on Dictionary.com when there’s a perfectly good Webster’s dictionary on their homework desk. (And forget for a moment that I do the same thing these days because I don’t want to lose my train of thought; the difference, in my mind, is I know what a printed dictionary is. Oh, be quiet.) That Wikipedia has become the font of all knowledge in place of Encyclopedia Britannica frightens the hell out of me. I mean, television show characters have Wikipedia pages as if they’re actual people. And the “facts” aren’t always the facts.
There’s a certain comfort that comes from feeling the weight of a book in my hands, to turn the pages – individually when I read, en masse as I inevitably search for the end of the chapter ever if I plan on reading the next chapter as well. And would Billy Crystal reading the last page of a book in When Harry Met Sally seem as morbid if if he were scrolling forward on a Kindle?
I’m currently reading three books – Team of Rivals, about Lincoln’s cabinet; The Intrepid, about my dad’s carrier; and The Great Bridge, David McCullough’s work about the Brooklyn Bridge. In the middle of this, I took two days and read Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero when my daughter left it here. Details aside, there always are multiple books in play … one for the car, one before I go to sleep, one … well, you get the idea.
Could I still do that on a Kindle? Is there the same odd joy that comes from looking down and seeing a book waiting for you, begging to be read and enjoyed … is that projected warmth really available on a cold black-and-white computerized screen? I can’t imagine that it is. It’s the same book but something’s missing.
And so it also seems to go with online real estate searches. Photos will take you so far, just as a clever cover just might get you to choose this book over that book when you’re standing in Barnes and Noble. (It’s not coincidence that books made into movies soon are reprinted with the actors on the front, except for the Harry Potter series and a handful of other exceptions.) The facts are the same whether you’re looking at the details on your screen or holding an MLS sheet as you stand in the living room.
But there’s a depth of feeling missing from the digital version, a feeling that can’t easily be replaced. I’m often asked about how a given neighborhood feels … and all I can say, even aside from the restraints of the Fair Housing Act, is you need to experience it for yourself. Your experience isn’t going to be the same as mine no matter how I try to get inside your head. We all have our own ways of viewing things, of absorbing things, of feeling … no amount of technology is going to be able to bridge the gap between technology and our own soft spots.
Some still feel the same reading their books on a machine. I’d like to think I could make the leap just as easily but I’m not sure.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn the page on the post in favor of some old-fashioned paper pages about the Fighting I.