Going Digital: From Paper to Kindle

Susan Noh was a Sales and Marketing Intern at Heyday from the fall of 2011 through the spring of 2012.

When I was in elementary school, I was always that kid that people knew of, rather than knew. Everyone has one of those kids in the classroom. The sharp-but-quiet student who skirted around the corners of playgrounds drawing in the dirt, collecting pebbles, or making “homes” for the faeries. That one girl who would have rather drawn and quartered herself before playing soccer or kickball with the rest of her fellow classmates. The one who enthusiastically (perhaps too enthusiastically) brandishes a book menacingly to any vaguely threatening social entity, keeping them at bay with a well worn spine of a book. The one who would either become some psychopathic lunatic or an introverted intellectual who has nothing more to offer the world than her half-sketched visions and stories. (It’s always the quiet ones….) Yeah, that kid.

For that kid, terror didn’t reside in the form of giant flesh eating primates or rampaging psychopaths with cleaver in hand, but the cute boy she sat next to asking, “hey what’s up?” My mouth would feel like it was filled with cotton, my mind would reel. Oh god, what kind of answer did he want? Something charming? A clever quip? An answer worthy of my infinite wit and developed sense of ironic humor that would reveal wisdom beyond my years? Come on, fool! Think of something quick!

“I…I…n-n-n…NOTHING!”

Yes, I was painfully timid and kept the jewel of social awkwardness well guarded during those years. My behavior occasionally baffled my parents and other perfectly developed social beings. They constantly offered pearls of wisdom such as “Just say hi and smile!” or even better, “if you don’t have friends, you will die!..socially.” This lead me from becoming a skittish asocialite to a smiling mannequin that probably freaked some of my earlier friends out before they got to know me. For those individuals who have 600+ friends on Facebook, go to social events like one would go to the restroom, and sleep each night knowing that they’re fully loved, then believe me when I say, it is difficult, if not impossible, to relate to “that one kid.”

Beginning with my elementary school years, between bouts of social disappointment and embarrassment, or when the thought of spending another lunch time alone because of a peeved group of friends became excruciating, the school library became a safe haven for me. As cliché as it sounds, when immersing myself into the world of literature, I realized that I had worlds in my hands. Entire continents of uncharted territory that I could experience and devour, and still I wanted to know more. I could still remember the feel of the worn spines, the yellowed pages of text and that peculiar slightly musty, but altogether not unpleasant scent that rose from these tomes. These books had character, an aura that comforted me. There was a comfortable density when I held them in my hands. Were they thin and the pages wispy, filled with charming, adventurous heroines? Were they thick and heavy with the didactic discourse of philosophers?

I could associate each book with a person that I could see in my mind’s eye. When friends and other social entities fell short, books kept me occupied for hours and days on end. I would excuse my loneliness with a haughty sniff. Let those other children chase a ball on the blacktop like mice on speed, I would partake in none of that.

That was then.

As I was cruising over to a Barnes and Noble to kill some time a few days ago, I caught sight of something truly atrocious. I literally backtracked a few steps. On top of a large stack of books there was a sleek, sexy contraption whose glistening screen winked at me flirtatiously beckoning me to come hither. I took a few steps towards it, uncertain. A large sign next to it said, “New Books Available on Kindle.” I touched it, still a bit hesitant. What part of this thing was like a book? The “pages” did not have new-book-smell to it that I loved. I couldn’t hear the sound of paper rubbing against paper as I flip each page. I couldn’t balance the spine in my palms if the spine didn’t exist. That particular weight of a book that I took comfort in was no longer there. Instead, what took its place was an object that looked to me, like an overgrown ipod, devoid of pages, spine, density, and (dare I say it?) soul. If someone was trying to fool me into thinking this was a book, they were doing an awful job at it.

Perhaps I am merely a purist in this particular arena, but there seems to be something inherently more sacrilegious when forcing a book to fit the confines of technology than when you decide to put your CD collection into your ipod. What is at stake seems to be higher. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not hatin’ on technology. I love my HD blu-ray DVD player and tiny breath-mint sized ipod as much as the next person. I don’t condemn technological advancements to be the workings of Satan and his minions. These little gadgets are convenient.

But when does the desire for convenience override the necessity to maintain the dignity and aura of objects that have symbolized knowledge and enlightenment for centuries? What is the sacrifice that one has to make in order to relieve a pound or two off your back at the airport or the classroom?

Well, sure, you might say, but the content inside is still the same, right? So what’s the big deal? When have external attributes and internal attributes been independent of one another? I’d say never, at least in practice. Physical utility and internal substance have almost always affected one another to a certain extent. In some future dystopian universe, which I hope that I will never live to witness, I can see digitalized books falling into the insidious clutches of The Man, forever filtering and altering the passage of knowledge a la Orwell. Crazy? Maybe. Impossible? I wouldn’t say so. After all, digital media has always been more subject to manipulation than almost any other form of media. What would Wikipedia be if not for a collection of snippets of information formed by the hands of an entirely different, perhaps unknowledgeable individual that may or may not be talking directly out of his ass?

Maybe I am overreacting, but if there was anything worth fighting for, then I think that something can be found within in the sturdy hardcover or your portable paperback resting on your shelf. If not for the future of our universe and the livelihood of our women and children, brotherhood and nation, then at least for that one kid in the corner who is too shy and apathetic to her peers; the one who finds solace between the covers of a book, balancing its spine within her tiny hands, devouring universes when nobody is looking.