Sunday, April 17, 2011

Think About Books, Part 2

Back in October, I posted "Think About Books." After reading an article in the April 11th Publishers Weekly just now, I felt compelled to write on this subject again.

The article is "Books Without Batteries: the negative impacts of technology," written by Bill Henderson. (I read it in the print version, by the way.) Henderson's thoughts echo many of my own, although he has different reasons for them. He refers to the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, a book I was not familiar with (but have just requested from the library). Henderson states that Carr's premise is that people cannot read in depth anymore, that people can't think anymore, in general. "They are becoming 'chronic scatterbrains...even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb.'"

I have to agree that many people can't (or, at least, don't) think anymore. Working in retail, I witness this scatterbrain-ness on a regular basis, though I think "scatterbrain" may be too nice of a term. I am not sure if it's due to technology, as Henderson and Carr state, but it's definitely out there. I tend to think that it stems from our superficial materialistic society, in general, and our public education system. But, whatever is causing the problem, it has created a society of people who read poorly, write poorly, and, as a result, think poorly. They just don't take the time to do those things anymore. I regularly see Facebook posts where people use your instead of you're (and vice versa). (It's just Facebook, I know...not a big deal. But it works toward my point anyway. See my post "Think About Professional Communication.")

I'm sure there are many reasons that people love their e-readers, and I have no issue with that. Some people like gadgets, and that's fine. Some adamant proponents of e-readers, though, think that they're good for the environment. Of all the things Americans are wasteful with, print books and the paper they use are probably the least of the problem. One does not usually read a book and trash it. Library books can be re-read for decades. A person who buys a book often loans it to other people or, at the very least, ends up selling it at a garage sale or donating it to Goodwill. In any case, most books get read more than once, usually multiple times, by different people. Even textbooks that go into new editions every couple of years (which is a problem in itself, one that I won't address here) get used more than a couple of times.

E-readers, on the other hand, are like any other gadget in that they become outmoded, sometimes within a few months. Not only does that feed American society's heavy consumerism (which is problematic in itself), but it isn't as "green" of an option as those who rationalize it that way might think. According to Henderson: "To make one e-reader requires 33 pounds of minerals, plus 79 gallons of water to refine the minerals and produce the battery and printed writing. 'The adverse health impacts...from making one e-reader are estimated to be 70 times greater than those for making a single book,' says [a recent New York Times article]. Then you figure that the 100 million e-readers will be outmoded in short order, to be replaced by 100 million new and improved devices..., and you realize an environmental disaster is at hand."

Henderson goes on to say: "Here's what it takes to make a book, which...will be shared by many readers and preserved and appreciated in personal, public, and university libraries that survive the gigantic digital book burning: recycled paper, a dash of minerals, and two gallons of water. Batteries not necessary. If trees are harvested, they can be replanted."

As both an avid reader and avid writer, I can't help but love books. As though they are my own kin, I want to protect them. And, if anyone chooses to read on an e-reader, that is his or her choice, which I respect. But, please, PLEASE, please, don't drag the printed book and all that it encompasses down with you. According to Henderson, "Books are our history and our future. If they survive, we will, too."

So, if you made it through this blog entry and understood what you read: Congratulations, your brain has not yet been stunted by digital society! The world needs more like you! And, if you really understood what you just read, you'll pass this link on to others to read because knowledge is power, and knowledge comes from words. And maybe, just maybe, knowledge can start to displace the ignorance and apathy which are all too prevalent in American society.

(And, trust me, the irony of my platform here--the internet--is not lost on me. However, if someone offered me a book deal right now, I'd willingly put my blog on hold to write for the printed page.)

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