Ever since I was a high school sophomore, I have wanted a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The multi-volume, utterly (and, perhaps, overly) comprehensive work documenting the history and hilarity of our English language is as venerable as it is voluminous. Regardless of its actual utility in my life, I cannot help but be gripped by the history and authenticity that such a work represents; an academic pyramid of Giza, standing tall as a symbol of the human race’s commitment to knowledge.
But then I stumbled upon this article. Yes, it’s two years old but who the hell reads The Telegraph? Britains? We all know they aren’t really people. Anyway, reading the Telegraph article, I experienced a sensation whose closest analogue I can only imagine was shared by aspiring astronauts at the announcement of the termination of the Space Shuttle program. This pinnacle of human knowledge and achievement, of academic refinement and time-defying aspiration was suddenly gone.
Yes, I mean gone. The multi-volume print edition is, barring a meltdown of all Kindle processors, gone. The English language still exists, the OED3 is still due for release in electronic form, and the knowledge will still be available to the academic elite, but in my heart, this isn’t enough. Without the great bound works of knowledge, it feels like we’ve let go of something very real and very precious in our society. I continue to flail, kicking and screaming against the end of print books because they represent something beautiful in our world.
Facebook has digitized human interaction, and cheapened it in the process. Text communication has dumbed down our vocabularies and emotional IQs. What is a book without the experience of the meandering bookstore discovery, the substance of printed paper, and the physical connection that comes with turning the pages and smelling the other-worldly glorious odor of a freshly printed page? Simply churning through media without regard for the visceral journey of reading or experiencing it just feels vapid and, above all, tragic.
The convenience is great, yes. The ubiquity with which print media can now make its way into the hands of young children and even knowledge hungry adults is akin to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. But even so, do we need to abandon the majesty of a printed book altogether? We do not digitize teddy bears for a reason: because in many cases, there are still intense and important emotional and physical sensations to be felt from physical contact with something of substantive worth. I hope that in our quest to become a more informed society, we do not lose sight of that very human component of ourselves.