Are we sacrificing the joy of reading fiction for the convenience of downloading books?

By Isa Hemphrey

eBook debate: One digitalisation too far?

By Isa Hemphrey

We’ve got it pretty good, haven’t we? We’ve got iPods with song capacities that will most likely never be filled. We’ve got Spotify, which lets us listen to whatever songs we want for free. We can use Netflix to stream movies to our TVs, Xbox’s and laptops – which means no more trying to get a scratched DVD of Superbad to work. But, then again, name me something that can’t be streamed for free on the internet, anyway.

Everything you want is there and making life easier. And it’s all so damn convenient. So, we should be happy and embrace the digital downloading culture, right?

Well, not always. When I see Great Expectations by Charles Dickens available for free on the Kindle, my insides churn and my eye twitches slightly. Is this, perhaps, just one digitalisation too far?

Now, I admit that I’ve browsed Google Books when I’ve been researching essays and assignments. I’ve taken advantage of the ‘find’ tool that saves me scouring through hundreds of PDFs of text. But these are classical works of fiction, not dull academic texts written by some American university that you’re never going to read all the way through.

The works of Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters need to be experienced as the writers intended. You need to physically hold the book in your hand and flick through the pages and read every ink-printed word to be fully engrossed in the story. It’s the kind of experience that inspires a child to learn how to read.

‘Holding a piece of plastic with a bright screen whilst reading fiction is just appalling.’

In practical terms, e-books are very useful and they allow you to access the stories quicker and at a lower cost. From a purely aesthetic point of view, holding a piece of plastic with a bright screen whilst reading fiction is just appalling. Why, when you’re reading a story, would you want to feel like you’re at work, staring at a computer screen?

If you went to the app store on Apple, you could download 23,469 classic books from Shakespeare to Huckleberry Finn. You don’t need a calculator to realise that is an excessive amount of reading, which you could probably never achieve in your lifetime. Downloads and apps such as this are providing excessive information that, while it may seem modern, is certainly not sophisticated. It makes these works of classic fiction seem like a bundle of computerised data files, rather than individual works of art.

These authors spent a substantial portion of their life, writing for your enjoyment and to share a little bit of their humanity with you. That should not be thrown away simply for convenience.

Everyone has a book that has influenced their life. Mine is 1984 by George Orwell. My battered and creased copy means more to me than being just a collection of words – it’s part of who I am. You can buy it for the Kindle for less than £5.

I ask you, could cheap digital text ever replace your favourite book?

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