The Getting of Knowledge

“Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a-a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and-and-and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a – it, uh, it has no-no texture, no-no context. It’s-it’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then-then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um, smelly.”

(Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1, Episode 8, 1997)

When trying to express my preference for ‘real’ books, this quotation is always what comes to mind; the fact that ‘real’ books are tangible is key. I know that an e-reader can tell me what page number I’m at, will allow me to add as many bookmarks as I want, add notes, control the brightness, font size, background, read it to me in a Yoda voice… but it really isn’t the same. For one thing, I don’t want to do math to figure out how far through the book I am, I like being able to tell at a glance that I’m about halfway through. If I’ve added multiple bookmarks I can see them all while I’m reading, in fact, I can keep a finger in the page I’m in, and quickly flick back to an earlier bookmark, then continue reading. And no amount of contrast/brightness/font/’paper’ options have ever made it possible for me to read off a screen for prolonged periods of time without feeling like my eyes have been sandpapered. More importantly, when I read ‘real’ books, I remember how the words looked on the page, where I was when I was reading, and so, what it was that I was reading.

That said, I’m a sucker for convenience, and e-books are definitely convenient. Getting to the university library is a 2-hour round trip for me, so online databases, journal access and e-books are a godsend, plus my iPhone is easier to carry around than the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series!

So I’ll tolerate progress, but I won’t stop buying ‘real’ books.