What Defines A Book?

Throughout history books have been a means of sharing information, experiences, and stories. However, books have not always been collections of pages bound in the fashion they typically are now. Once upon a time a “book” was a collection of scrolls or clay tablets and as new technologies in paper-making and printing emerged, so did new styles of sharing the written word. The form of books has remained the same for an extremely long time but that is beginning to change.

When e-books were first introduced it seemed as though they were going to edge out paper books all together. They’re light and portable, have the capacity to hold more than just one book, and of course, save paper. But for some reason, paper books have survived.

For me, being able to hold a paper book in my hands and flip through the pages is very important. I like to be able to close the book and see how far through the pages my bookmark lies to see how much I’ve read. In textbooks, it’s easy to mark a page with important reference information or to point to where I left off in my notes. If I get confused about some new material it’s simple to hold my current page with my hand and flip back to previous chapters, which goes for reading for pleasure as well as for work.

That being said, I certainly understand the appeal and usefulness of e-books. A big part of having a textbook is lugging it around everywhere, but with an e-book that dense brick of pages is made super light and easy to carry, which would make life easier when I have to carry all my homework with me during the day because I’m unable to make it back to my dorm. In the beginning of the semester there would be no wait for textbooks to arrive because they would appear as soon as they’re purchased over the Internet. Not to mention the paper that would be saved by keeping a 500-1000 page textbook digital. But you can’t leave sticky notes in a digital book. And there is no flipping through the pages with ease. The battery in my paper book never dies. So for this avid reader, a tangible paper book is for the wait/weight.

But the e-book isn’t the only path by which books are evolving. They are completely digital and consist of no physical paper pages, an abrupt shift from paperbacks, which have caused some developers to take a more gradual approach. There are projects that are halfway between books and e-books involving, for example, micro-chips embedded in the pages to connect them to the digital world or ways to link books to smart phones to make the story more interactive (a short list can be found here). In the case of the smart phone- book fusions, reading can become an even more engaging activity because the story can require the participation of the reader or the phone app can provide additional information that may be hard to portray through text (sounds, for example). Of a different variety, the “FingerLink” project from the list mentioned above would facilitate the transferal of  physical texts to the digital world. With the help of printers, putting digital data on paper is simple, but the reverse is significantly more difficult. Technology like this would enable us to take information directly from its written source and use it in a digital medium. This would be incredibly useful for students and scholars doing research using information from sources that only exist in print. Books like these, along with other augmented reality projects could change the way we experience reading and, as students, experience learning. In a few generations the regular old paperbacks we all know and love may be outdated in favor of newer tech, but for right now they’re not going anywhere.



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