Friday, February 25, 2011

Books Versus E-Books

A dieter’s greatest scourge is temptation. That luscious chocolate-encrusted strawberry croons our names until we respond. That succulent dessert begs to be devoured.
A minimalist diet, unfortunately, has the same nemesis. Temptation draws us whenever we deprive ourselves of those things that we have elevated to the status of delightful. Minimalism, though, holds that “doing without” is the epitome of success.
Since I chose the minimal lifestyle, the temptation imp has stood in my way frequently, and I have been compelled to choose what really is significant in my daily life. Reading is one of those essentials.
Yet, I am “old school;” some say, a dinosaur. I love the feel, the heft, the connection to printed and bound reading materials. Part of the joy of reading a good book is to collapse into a comfortable chair, or sprawl on a lush lawn with an engrossing book in my hands. It is a route to losing the reality of the world around me.
I have found that reading an article on my laptop lacks the tactile pleasure of savouring a pocket novel or hard cover classic. The LCD screen seems to flicker, or the sunlight makes reading impossible, or the computer must be plugged in after an hour or so. There are myriad excuses as to why e-books are inferior to bound copies of the same plots and documents. Yet, by the end of 2010, over 10% of all books sold were in electronic, or digital form. The world is embracing the new technology, while I cling to old ways.
Cognitively, I see e-books as an expression of minimalism. No wasted paper, no bulk or heft to them. A hundred thousand books takes up no more space than a hundred on my shelf. The physical impact of a wall of leather bound books smacks of achievement and intellectual superiority. The display of the newest best seller, in hard cover, says “I have the money to pay the price of this collection of pulp,” while the discreet nature of an e-book offers none of the status or prestige of a bound copy.
The guilt of indecision, and the social pressure of always conforming to the world’s perception of what constitutes a minimalist drives my choice as to whether I should purchase an e-book or a printed one. The very decision to buy either is at the heart of the minimalist dilemma.
Yet, minimalism is about prioritizing. In the end, I choose to buy bound readers when I want the joy of relaxing and reading. I do not want to be tied to a darkened room, or carry my laptop (or Kindle, if I owned one) with me, in case the mood to read attacks me. I choose to read digital media when I want to conduct research, read a technical paper, or am investigating a more formal document or topic.
Minimalism requires choosing and prioritizing, but it also requires getting every last drop of living out of life, at the least cost to the world around us. I will relinquish my deeply-rooted preference for the tactile experience of reading, only when that experience already is soured by routine and mechanical written materials that offer none of the release of fiction or exploration of the unknown. After all, my minimalist diet allows for the occasional indulgences!

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