Tuesday, March 24, 2009
On Reading from Books Versus Computers
I know I talked about it before. But I'm having so much fun reading Reading the OED. It's a new book by Ammon Shea, pictured above, who read the Oxford English Dictionary. That's 59 million words, give or take a few thousand, in one year. Who knew that someone who loves to read dictionaries could be so interesting? Here's part of Shea's reflection on why he didn't read the OED online:
You cannot drop a computer on the floor in a fit of pique, or slam it shut. You cannot leave a bookmark with a note on it in a computer and then come upon it after several years and feel happy you've found something you thought you had lost. You cannot get any sort of tactile pleasure from rubbing the pages of a computer. (Maybe some people do get a tactile pleasure from rubbing their computers, but they are not people I have any interest in knowing anything about.)
Reading on a computer screen gives you no sense of time or investment. The page always looks the same, and everything is always in the same exact spot. When reading a book, no matter how large or small it is, a tension builds concurrent with your progress through its pages. I get a nervous excitement as I see the number of pages that remain to be read draining inexorably from the right to the left. The fact that this will happen twenty times over as I read the OED does not in any way diminish its appeal.
I've never sat down at a new computer and, prior to using it, felt a deep and abiding need to open it up and sniff it as deeply as I can, the way I have many a book. To me, computers all smell the same, and their smell is not a nice one. And though a computer will unarguably hold far more information than even the largest of books, sitting down at a computer has never provided me with that delicious anticipatory sense that I am about to be utterly and rhapsodically transported by the words within it.
I've never looked across the room at my computer and fondly remembered things that I once read in it. I can while away hours at a time just standing in front of my books and relive my favorite passages by merely gazing at their spines. I have never walked into a room full of computers, far from home, and immediately felt a warm familiarity come over me, the way I have with every library I've ever set foot in.
This is why I do not care to read the OED on the computer.
Actually, that's not the best or funniest passage I've come across so far. It just happens to be what I read this morning and wanted to post. Can you relate?