Yesterday I stumbled upon one of my very old books… and by that I mean one of those my mom used to read to me when I was only a couple of years old, long before I could read them myself. The thing was falling apart, and there was some evidence that it had been patched up more than once. In other words, it showed all the signs of a children’s book that has been ‘well-loved’ (read ‘thoroughly chewed’). When I saw it, I was overjoyed. It was such a seemingly insignificant thing, but it brought back so many memories. I spent a couple of hours getting reacquainted with some I hadn’t really forgotten (though I admit I was surprised to realize that that little book included The Three Astronauts, a very short story by Umberto Eco) and getting a little teary eyed.
It was, in other words, a wonderful experience… and then I started thinking about kids today, who are learning to read on a tablet, that will get replaced and discarded in a couple of years, kids who will never have a chance to stumble upon an old friend as I did yesterday, and I couldn’t help but to think that they will be missing something… and the worst part is that they’ll never even notice.
Oh, I’m not denying that there are plenty of advantages to technology, but it is a trade-off, and the kids that are growing up glued to their tablets will never know what they are missing. They will never know the joy of stumbling upon an unexpected treasure in a pile of old books, they will never wonder about the hands that held the book they are currently reading a hundred years ago. In short, we are heading into a world in which there are no first editions, and in which getting your favorite book autographed by its author is no longer an option. Granted, moving half a world away with a library comprising thousands of volumes is bound to be easier with a tablet or an ereader than with thousands upon thousands of pounds of dead trees (I’ve done it, and I’ll be the first to admit that it is not much fun), but there is a certain kind of magic to the printed page. Cracking open an old book brings back a scent of the past… and that is a scent that is on the brink of being lost for good.