Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
A little more than 550 years ago, a metal-smith, a gem cutter and the owner of a paper mill collaborated on an invention that changed the world. The Gutenberg Press ushered in a paradigm shift in sharing information – mass produced printed material. Within 50 years, the mass-printing of books had spread throughout Europe. Information also spread throughout Europe. Followed by Reformation, revolutions, democratic thought, and literacy.
By the turn of the 21st century, Amazon.com launched and bibliophiles across the U.S. rejoiced. With several clicks of a computer mouse, and a patient wait of a week or so, you could buy and receive in the mail – a book. Virtually any book.
The online bookseller, Amazon, didn’t create a paradigm shift. Books could be purchased online from other outlets, and the public library still to this day will transfer a book from any one branch in its system to your local branch for mere pocket change.
I love books. LOVE books. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, Bibles, Little Golden Books, textbooks, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, hardcover, paperback, pulp, biographies, poetry, essays… I love the printed word.
I love the memory of the hot summer when I was 14 and I read Wuthering Heights. I loved my first library card when I was 6, after my mother realized that buying me a book whenever I asked was going to get costly. I loved the book fairs and newsprint book order forms in elementary school. I even secretly loved getting all my textbooks in college (a heavy, expensive prospect for a history/English major/minor.)
Our living room has built-in bookcases flanking the fireplace; one is full of books; the other is full of CDs and movies (I know, very 20th century) only because I conceded the space. I have two bookcases in my office, a full floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the attic, and several boxes of books packed away. This is my book collection after the great book purge of 2012.
A book feels good. A book smells good. A book can be passed among friends. Book lovers know these sentiments well.
Then, in 2007, Amazon did create a paradigm shift. The Kindle e-reader device could download a digital book to your hot little hands in seconds. Bibliophiles split into factions. There’s the “You will have to pry my printed book from my cold, dead fingers”-bibliophile, and the “Look, I can carry 1,000 books with me everywhere”-bibliophile.
I aligned with the first right away. Imagine my self-loathing when I found myself holding my first Kindle the other evening and musing, “Wow, this is pretty cool, and so easy to hold and read!”
As soon as the words left my lips, I felt like a cheater. The dust-jacketed hearts of all my books grew cold. Then, as I snuggled under my fleece blanket, I swiped my thumb a few times and downloaded a few books via Wi-Fi. I even figured out how to “borrow” e-books from the public library.
My 30-year-old paperback copy of Tom Sawyer will never crash or become obsolete, and I will continue to buy print books. But, I am also excited to realize that I am living through a paradigm shift. I am the same as the late-medieval villager I envision; upon seeing a printing press churn out over 3,000 pages a day, they surely marveled, “Huh. That’s pretty cool.”