Taking the digital leap

American avant garde writer, Bob Brown, couldn’t have hit the nail more squarely on the head when he drew the attention of his readers to a day when people may actually read from a “machine” or what we now know as reading e-books on a computer. He prophesied in his book ‘The Readies’, published in the 1930s, that people in the future may become so enamoured by e-books that they may render the reading of physical, real books obsolete.

More than 80 years later, his vision appears to have partially come true as we are now in an era of digitised libraries where students can actually read e-books by scrolling down computer monitors. In fact, in the school where I work, it is heartening to note that our Chairman and Director have purchased 30 new computers to comprise the school’s digital library.

Desperately trying “to keep up with the Joneses”, perhaps, by running furiously only to stay in the same place, we in this modern era have become masters in utilising complex tech gadgetry. Modern students who are already adept in the usage of iPads, iPods, tablets, laptops, DVDs, touch screen mobile smartphones, Facebook, Nintendo, Kindle, and what not, may feel that reading e-books from a digital library is the next understood phase of progression.

So, naturally our students were agog with unbridled enthusiasm when we explained to them that they would be spoilt for choice since the digital library had a list of over 30,000 books to choose from! To narrow down their search for the books of their choice, we asked them to specify the category they want, such as science fiction, biographies, fiction classics, etc.

The advantages of a digital library are many. Children can choose modern, contemporary books, like the Geronimo and Thea Stilton series, that jostle for attention with timeless classics like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, many of which may not be present in the heavily limited-edition physical library.

We reiterated to the students that multiple users can read the same book at their individual computers during the same time slot – something unimaginable in a physical library. Hence, we felt pleasantly satisfied when cricket buffs from class V chose Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, ‘Playing It My Way’, while the girls were not far behind in discreetly clicking their mouse to zero in on the beautiful Barbie books with their visually alluring videos.

However, here comes the twist. For me, a 55-year-old middle-aged woman who has emerged and evolved from her childhood days in the 1970s and 1980s – devouring books written by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Ruskin Bond – I’m unable to make the transition. For, to me, e-books just don’t cut the mustard.

Call me a daft old-timer, old-fashioned and belonging to the school of antiquated thought, but I would any day prefer choosing a delightful physical book, turning its pages wistfully and absorbing all the sublime feelings and emotions it has to offer. I cannot, for the life of me, appreciate reading an e-book from a cold, unemotional and surreal computer. Yes, the physical book – and not the e-book nor the dog nor the diamonds – are and will always be a girl’s very best friend.

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