Tactile Sensations vs Digital Convenience

It’s  a simple question really: How do you prefer to read, with an eReader or with an old-school, physical book in hand?

The answer is not so simple, because as with many things in our complex world, it depends.

Get lost…in a book

I prefer the feeling of paper pages and the smell of books over the brilliant, high-definition screen of my iPad. I blame the archaeologist in me for that. Despite being a very ardent technophile, when I want to get lost in a book it needs to be a physical book. When I imagine being sucked into an eBook, I get a cold, vaguely Tron-esque feeling. (Not that being pulled into a computer wouldn’t be a grand adventure in itself). It is much easier to imagine being sucked into a fantasy world of dragons, swords, and heros through a portal of paper pages and printed text. (I think  The Neverending Story is responsible for that imagery.)

I devoured George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series in paperback form, and eagerly awaited the release of A Dance with Dragons. When it came out, my boyfriend bought the eBook on his iPad. Not wanting to double-purchase the book, I tried to start reading the eBook…and for months I have been stuck on the same boat, floating down the same ominous  river. After staring at computer screens for work all day, it is hard for me to cuddle up in bed with another screen. For one reason or another, my boyfriend seems very keen to talk about the book’s ending, so I will likely check out Dance with Dragons from the library soon.

On the flip side of the coin, my boyfriend loves eBooks. He recently evaluated his book shelves and donated/resold at least half of his books. We realized that the physical books we honoroed with permanence on our shelves were books we wanted to reread multiple times, or have had some emotional signfiicance for us. A lot of the books required for college classes were donated, under the reasoning that many of those flimsy Penguin Classics are available for free as eBooks should we ever need to read them again.

Greater than the sum of its parts

Like I said, it depends. When I initially cast my vote in favor of reading physical books, it was because I was picturing books of fiction. Not cookbooks, not reference journals, and not comic strip compilations. For the most part, I do not read a cookbook cover to cover. I pick up a cookbook as a reference tool equally as often as I search for recipes online. As I continue to dwell on this topic, it seems to me that my primary criteria for whether I would prefer to read a physical book or an eBook boils down to this one question:

Can this volume be divided into easily digestible segments that can be comprehended independent of the whole?

If yes, then digital is my choice. Academic journals and cookbooks often fall into this category. If, however, the value of the volume is greater than the sum of its parts or the comprehension of one chapter is dependent on the presence of the preceding chapters, then I opt for a physical book.

At the start of my sewing and knitting adventures, I bought books that summarily introduced me to  the terms and techniques I would need before beginning any project. Two years later, I know where to go online to learn five different ways to hem a skirt, but when I first started sewing the vast amounts of information available online was intimidating. I did not know what search terms to use or which blogs to trust. To me, these books—with their vibrant step-by-step illustrations and easy to understand instructions—were greater than the sum if their parts because they walked me through the entire process from deciphering commercial pattern symbols, to choosing fabric, to understanding bobin tension, and proper seam ironing techniques.

Conversely, craft books that are just collections of 20 different hats you can knit or 25 ways to upcycle your old oversized T-shirts  have limited usefulness, in my opinion. I have bought those books and they are currently sitting on my shelves unused. In the interest of saving space, if I am only keeping a book for one article or one project, I would prefer a digital copy of that resource. I choose to buy individual patterns or tutorials through Etsy,  Ravelry, Craftsy, Burdastyle, or independent designers’ websites when I am ready to start a specific project. In the case of knitting patterns, it is much easier to port around 5 PDFs on my smart photo than carry around an entire book for each pattern. This is where the portability of digital wins out over the feel of paper in my hand.  But I have the feel of yarn or fabric in my hand, so that makes up for my tactile needs.


I will leave you with one final thought. Even as a defender of libraries and physical books, advances in digital media distribution allow individuals to pursue their dreams and hobbies through self-publishing. Whether they are self-publishing a collection of short stories through Amazon, or if they are selling knitting patterns through their blog, they are in control of their own content.

One thought on “Tactile Sensations vs Digital Convenience

  1. I’ve begun replacing some of my books with Digital copies (although Eric refuses to do so) mostly for convince, but some of it is to continue to support an author I adore, etc.

    I’ve yet to try Digital patterns for cross stitch, although I do have two to make when my damn car is finished (which MIGHT actually be soon!!!) but I’m not too hopeful – the more complex a pattern is, the more I have to physically mark off which stitches I’ve made, and I don’t know how I’d do that digitally…at least not easily.

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