In my blog of 10/2/13, I proposed that we ban paper and go back to clay tablets. The suggestion was tongue in cheek, of course, a way of saying it would be nice to slow down the amount of information we generate, record and store. No one has taken up my suggestion and, happily, a book has been written in defense of paper: Paper: An Elegy, by Ian Samson
Nicholas Carr references Samson’s work in his recent essay, “No, paper isn’t dead.” (Excerpted from Nautilus by The Week, 10/18/13 pgs. 40-41) Aside from recounting its long history, invented 105 A.D. by Cai Lun, Carr goes on to say paper may be “the most versatile invention in history.” I’m sure he’s right. Where would Guttenberg have been without it? Or the New York Times? We use paper to cover our walls, write our novels and wipe our bottoms among other things.
Some predicted the electronic age would mean the end of paper but studies have proved otherwise. E-book sales may be going through the roof but these same readers haven’t thrown away their interest in paperbacks. Print books account for three quarters of all sales. Students aren’t ready to give up their libraries either. Printed texts are more flexible than electronic versions, they say. (Ibid, pg. 41)
What students describe as “flexible” is a response to the way our brains work. “To the human mind, a sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single ‘page’ of information at a time.” (Ibid pg. 41) The inability to flip back and forth with ease through lengthy texts on electronic devices “turns out to be important to the mind.” (Ibid pg. 41) Apparently, we see a book as a kind of geography through we can navigate and as such, our brains create a mental map. That map is a learning tool. Think about the sense of place you have when you want to return to a passage in a book you’ve read earlier. Instinctively, you know whether it was at the beginning, middle or end. Mapping of that kind isn’t easy on an electronic screen.
Those who predict the death of paper or of print books are probably in the same position as those who thought radio would disappear with the invention of television. Some equivalencies aren’t really equivalencies to our brains. That fact may explain why “people who read from a printed page understand text better than those who read the same material on a screen. (Ibid pg. 41) I find the science comforting. Any rationale that allows me to justify my old fashioned ways is welcome.
(Courtesy of wikipedia.com)