Thursday, February 9, 2012

Making Sense of the Tactile/Digital Divide

My relationship with books is at a crossroads.

During my seminary education, Professor Paul Sponheim distinguished himself from other professors through his relationship with books. Whenever he talked about a book during a lecture, he'd have to show us the physical book. I'm not sure why he did this. I wonder if he thought we wouldn't believe the book existed unless he showed it to us. The ritual was a little crazy, but endearing. One time he used a hand truck to wheel the books in for a lecture (I think his record was about 30 books). The books in his office not only filled the bookshelves, but stacks stood like a maze of sentries around his desk. He said he usually read a book every day. I was in awe.

I love books, but I loathe storing and carrying them, and after 10 years of interim ministry I had to move them frequently. For years I carried anywhere from 5-15 books with me almost anywhere I went. When I acquired an iPad last year, I was thrilled at the idea of digital books. These days I often bristle at the thought of a paper book as I am reminded of lugging labor. After 10 months with an iPad, I love using it in many different ways, and I own about 20-30 digital books--but I only dabble in them. In  10 months with my iPad, I'm reading fewer books and more digital news articles, journal articles and blogs. This is a bad trend.

The other day I picked up a new Bible for myself for the first time in 4-5 years. I had pruned my Bible collection by about 75 percent, as my Bible software has taken the place of keeping so many Bible translations (moving 3 times in 3 years will inspire these kinds of decisions). When I picked up that new Bible, a wave of tactile energy overwhelmed me. The closest comparison is a long overdue hug with my wife. I hadn't realized the importance of the that tactile ritual. I'm looking forward to reading it again. I have several thoughts about my relationships with books.

1. Seth Godin suggests that an e-reader separate from tablet might be a better investment for the sake of productivity. Is he on to something?
2. Is my relationship with paper books so deep that my conversion to e-books will never be complete (but complete for my possible future grandchildren)?
3. The goal is to read and learn. Maybe I shouldn't be so hung up on the means of getting there, but to just do it.

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