Sticking up for books and paper

“To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet. It’s distracting. It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Ray Bradbury (90) doesn’t explain why he doesn’t like the Internet, but I think I can make a good guess based on the “it’s in the air somewhere” remark.

Whenever anyone discusses the merits of books over digital literature, somebody always says something about how nothing can beat the feeling of a nice book: the paper, the ink, the smell of it, the weight of it, the warm, friendly feeling, etc. etc. Indeed, the emotional aspects of printed media usually seem to be the only argument presented in favour of them. Fans of dead tree media say that books and paper are emotionally better because they’re tactile and look nicer than [insert technology under discussion]. Bradbury’s attitude seems to be no exception.

While I don’t dismiss emotional attachment as being insignificant, it would be useful to list something else about books or paper that give them an advantage over digital media. Here are a few I can think of:

1. Paper (and to a lesser extent a book) fits a particular mode of use that digital media cannot yet fulfil: I can jot something down on paper, hand it to somebody who can then adjust that jotting if need be, and we can use it for high-level, fast communication. The recipient can then carry it around for a short while until its purpose is served, and then dispose of it. Similar use cases can be played out on walls with chalk or charred sticks, on sand, or on steamy windows.

2. Books and paper are robust within specific common parameters and don’t need a power source. Properly stored, a book can last thousands of years. I can also abuse a book in a variety of ways and it will still be fit for purpose. Burn it, however, or tear it into tiny pieces, and I better have another copy or all the information in it is lost forever.

3. Properly produced, books and paper can be far more environmentally friendly than digital media, or at least the hardware that delivers that media.

4. Er, that’s it. Every other property of books or paper I can think of are either disadvantages, or are matched by current digital media.

Any other suggestions for the objective advantages of books over digital media?