Last week my Kindle died and now I’m calling it quits. As its screen fatally froze on the page it will now display for all of eternity, I came to the conclusion that I was not meant to be a Kindle reader. I was, however, disappointed by the thought of all of the books that I had downloaded and not yet finished. But as I looked for a positive spin on my E-reader’s passing, I found a clear sign that I should go back to reading books with paper pages, covers, and a spine.
I’m not out of touch with technology. I’ve had an Ipod since 2004, I replaced it with an Ipod Touch when it first came out, and most recently bought an Iphone, which I have yet to put down. I enjoy having instant access to internet and music, but there is something about the Kindle that irks me. When I first unwrapped the appealing device, I quickly downloaded and devoured twice as many books as I usually read, but I felt that by doing so, I was betraying Johannes Gutenberg and his 15th century printing press. A somewhat avid reader, I missed the feeling of holding the book itself, manually flipping the pages, or even sneaking a peek a few chapters ahead to see how the book unfolds. Additionally and most importantly,I found that I was missing out on a sense of spirituality that exists in reading books in their “natural” form.
I am familiar with most of the arguments for the Jewish people’s future as “People of the E-Book” and agree with some of them. Yes,it’s true. We can’t be left behind while the rest of the world continues to go digital, so our literature should be appropriately “copied and pasted” so that everyone can benefit from it. But before boxing up our printed libraries and turning the bookshelf into extra storage space, it’s important to put aside the ease, convenience, and 3G speed of 21st century reading to remember why we read in the first place and that written word is a timeless Jewish value within itself.
Printed books have become the Sabbath of the media world. Our dependency on digital technology has become fully integrated into everyday living and takes up a clear majority of the ways in which we access information. When you finally encounter an idea that stands out from the others, it’s easily lost between the text messages, instant news updates, and Facebook statuses that fill our inboxes and attention spans. Printed Books provide the simplicity that is needed for taking in and processing information that the instant access style of the digital world will never be able to provide. The printed word is separate from the rest; as long as the book is opened, it’s only you and the words written on the page. There are no pop-up windows or incoming calls to interrupt from within.
Would the bible still have the same value and legacy in the Western world if it had been first introduced as an E-Book? Would the Septuagint still have miraculously come out with the identical Greek translation 70 times over if the scholars in Alexandria had instead dictated it to their Iphones? It’s tough to tell. As a people who, from youth until old age, still play on the seesaw that bounces between tradition and modernity, we need to integrate all modes of media into our intellectual engagement to make sure that our culture and practices stay relevant. But we ultimately have the responsibility to make sure that there isn’t too much dust collecting on our bookshelves. As the market for the my late Kindle’s surviving grandchildren and their competitors continues to develop, the amount of people who are completely dependent on digital literature will continue to grow, but when I think of reading as a Jewish value, I see myself flipping through the pages of a book as a holy act and leave the computer screen for the mundane.