Paper or Pixels? Reading in the Digital Age

2015 marks the year where publishers finally see the sober reality of how traditional paper books have recovered sales. The eBook fad may be dying.
But eBooks are not dead. At least not yet (I personally still read on my Kindle). There’s many a reason as to why eBooks will still thrive together with print.

There’s nothing quite like a new book. While paper book loyalists will talk for hours about that “new book smell,” Buzzfeed gives long lists of why paper is better than pixels. However, these lists and arguments contain such riveting arguments as “you don’t have to turn off your book on an airplane,” and “you can read a book in the bath,” ignoring the existence of most smart devices’ transmission-free airplane mode, not to mention the fact that paper dissolves in water.

There are just a few things that most so-called “real book” loyalists neglect to address in their lauding the superiority of dead tree format:
• It’s much more convenient to carry around an eBook library than a paper one
• You can turn any smart device into an eReader; you can’t turn every piece of paper into a novel
• The slow segue from printed paper to digital downloads saves literally millions of trees per year

While the jury is still out with regard to possible eye strain caused by using an electronic device for reading, concern for these issues can be alleviated easily with a set of computer glasses, fine-tuning your backlight and taking periodic breaks—which you should be doing any time you face a visually arduous undertaking.

The number one reason to choose pixels over paper is the convenience of it all. Not only can you carry your entire personal library with you, book apps for Android like the Nook come connected to an online bookseller. This gives you access to all the millions of titles available online through their storefront, making it easy to pick up the sequel to the novel you just finished. As long as you have a credit card and a secure Wi-Fi or mobile data connection, you can buy the next book in your favorite series, download it to your smart device and get reading in a matter of minutes. While there is something nostalgic about hunting through a bookstore for the newest installment of your best-selling favorite series, eBooks never go out of stock.

According to avid reader Jo Walton of the sci-fi literature hub, the convenience of an eReader or an eBook app can change a person’s reading habits—for the better. With many classics long out of copyright, book apps give readers the opportunity to finally catch up on the best books of the last era without spending a dime. There’s also the fact that, with apps like those mentioned above, you can turn literally any smart device into an eReader. Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or something in between, there’s absolutely no trouble involved in turning your device into the mobile library of your dreams.

Going Green
It may seem like a given that an eReader would be more environmentally friendly than sticking with paper. After all, some proponent of the tech report that the number of eBooks solid over paper copies saves upwards of 3 million trees per year. However, the truth is a little more complex.

Any smart device does have some level of carbon emissions during manufacture, which the Huffington Post reports at around 130 kg of carbon dioxide per eReader. Given that a paperback book takes just under 8 kg of CO2, at first glance it may look like killing trees is actually saving the environment. However, a bit of simple math proves that even if you opt to purchase the priciest tablet you can for your reading pleasure, it only takes the download of around 20 eBooks to counter the carbon footprint of your shiny digital device. While every printed book just keeps increasing greenhouse gas emissions, choosing pixels over paper can actually result in a negative carbon footprint—if you download enough books to your library. There are other claims about continuing carbon emissions thanks to charging and use, but this is literally measured in thousands of hours. As long as you have more than 20 books in your library, whether it’s on a dedicated eReader, a tablet or your smartphone, you’ve got the environment covered.

A Tough Decision
It’s true, an eBook will (probably) never have that “new book smell,” which can be considered reason enough to stick with paper for many readers. If that’s an integral part of your reading experience, then the fact of the matter is you probably won’t enjoy using a book reading app or a smart device to consume the next installment of Game of Thrones.

However, it’s equally important to weigh the experience against your ability to have that experience; most people don’t use eBooks for 100 percent of their reading. At the moment, digital reading is for travel, checking out new titles or getting caught up on all those public domain classics. It’s a matter of convenience for some, responsibility for others, and enjoyment for all. Why not give it a try with your smart device?

By Jayvee Fernandez

Jayvee Fernandez is a tech enthusiast and sitting Techbology Editor for The Philippine STAR.

He is also an EAN certified SCUBA Diver and underwater photographer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. His photos and videos have appeared in various international and local publications including Random House Germany, Discovery Channel Canada, and CNN.

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