Digital and physical

December 18, 2013

I read books a lot, both physical and digital books, and I often question myself about the difference in experience in reading these two. There are some obvious differences like format, shape or weight, and obvious similarities like reading pages or bookmarking. I would like, however, to focus on one particular quality of a book that is the most important difference between any physical and digital good – meaning.

With each new book I read, I change. Some books make me laugh, some make me feel depressed and some can achieve both. Design books that I read every single day make me feel more confident and more excited about my job. In this sense, there’s no difference between a book and an ebook.

But when I buy a physical book, it starts to live a life of its own. After reading it for days or weeks, the book changes. It’s not brand new anymore. It looses the smell of a new book (luckily, most of that wonderful smell is being inhaled by me). Edges of papers lose their sharpness. Cover becomes slightly bent and you can tell it was read just by looking at it. When I put a book on a shelf it becomes a part of the space I live in and it continues to change over time. It becomes a reminder that all the things with ephemeral beauty represent the life itself. This transience and decay of things around me remind me that I should use every moment of my life since I will go through the same lifecycle as that book.

Bookshelf is one of the most important parts of our home and it takes a central place in the living room. The wooden shelf also changes over time and has its own aging marks. That part of my home is my tranquility. From time to time, my wife and I love to rearrange the books and by doing that we enliven our living space and get in touch with things that have changed meanwhile. The oldest book that we have was printed in 1914!

With an ebook, as with any other digital good, there’s no such relationship. Ebooks will always look and feel the same, stored in some folder, away from my eyes and hands. Ebook is not part of my life in the same way a book is. I can have this relationship with the device I use to read an ebook, but not with the ebook itself. All digital goods, be it ebooks, software, documents or images give me a sense of permanency and immutability. They are sterile. And that sterility prevents me from getting in touch with transience and gives me a sense of timelessness. Which is just an illusion.

It is not the question of is one better than the other. I will continue to read both physical and digital books as I was doing so far. It is just that I still can’t find the right place for digital goods in my life.

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  • Adding meaning to digital music (December 20, 2013)

    […] (and digital music in general). Janko Jovanovic discusses this in the context of eBooks in his post Digital and physical, but it’s just as applicable to digital […]

  • Andrew Coyle (December 23, 2013)

    Something is lost in any digital product. The cultural moment is replaced by a device. In a digital format books, news, pictures, etc. are presented with infinite options and their meaning is lost in the noise. Physical artifacts have meaning because of their singularity. They live in our world, not in a screen. That being said… I hate to read. Audio books all the way. Ha!

  • Rodolfo Figueira (December 23, 2013)

    Excellent approach! I feel exactly the same… Still reading a lot of digitals/physicals books, in anyway they make some changes…

  • Wender (January 3, 2014)

    Congratulations for the work and thanks for sharing

  • rebecca kroegel (January 7, 2014)

    such a common debate. Im big on having the printed book but at times when I want a book but there are no stores open, well the online store is always open. :-) you raise some great points

  • davetiyeafyon (January 16, 2014)

    Çalışmalardan dolayı tebrik

  • geek (January 24, 2014)

    Excellent approach!

  • Yangın Kapısı (February 21, 2014)

    I feel nearly same I am reading a lot of physicals books, they make some little changes in my knowlege. Digital book reading very diffucult for me.

  • Jokerdoor (March 14, 2014)

    Congratulations for this article and thank you very much for sharing.

  • Sophie Exintaris (March 24, 2014)

    I’ve been keeping a virtual bookshelf on pinterest for a few years now. All the other bookshelf apps didn’t work as well. My digital book revolution started with the iPad 2, in 2011 (ooh! 3 years ago nearly to the day!). It helps satisfy the visual craving of the bookshelf, and makes it easy to remember and recommend books to people.

  • Yangın Merdiveni (March 26, 2014)

    Excellent approach! Thanks for sharing.

  • Производство воздуховодов (April 5, 2014)

    Very interesting viewing. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Filipe (May 15, 2014)

    thanks for sharing, very interesting

  • igreja kyrios (May 15, 2014)

    I like your content!! very good!

  • Marcos (June 23, 2014)

    very good!! thank you!

  • izmir evden eve (July 21, 2014)

    Thank you for this beatiful article.