I lay back on the couch and closed my eyes. It was midafternoon and, despite having a couple magazines to read and a few writing projects to complete, I was too tired to focus. On an ordinary day, this would have meant setting everything aside for a nap. But not today. Instead, I’d plugged my ear buds into my iPad and pressed the icon which read “Tap for an audio version of this story”.
It was a fair compromise between what I wanted to be doing and what I knew I should be doing and it was made possible by a technology which I’ve passionately resisted for years. Digital books and magazines were, in my opinion, a form of modern heresy. After all, reading was not about convenience, but about the blissful union of information and tactile sensation. It was about the weight of a book in my hands, the feel of the paper as I turned the pages. I yearned for the musty aroma of well-worn volumes and the gritty residue left on freshly-cut paper. None of these could be provided by anything “digital”. And this meant that anything digital was distinctly inferior.
It was my fiancé who forced me to take my first steps into the brave new world of electronic media. He had noticed me drooling over a multi-volume set for which I had the money, but not the space. The obvious solution to my problem was to give me the books in a form which took virtually no space at all. And, since they were a birthday gift, I could hardly argue.
It wasn’t long before I’d discovered at least one merit to this new format: the volumes could be cross referenced. This was, in my opinion, the only redeeming quality of these books which, according to my laptop’s hard drive, consisted only of 1’s and 0’s. Still, it was sufficient to interest me in the purchase of several more volumes which utilized the same software program. Digital books, I decided, were acceptable. But only for research.
This concession, of course, did nothing to reduce my stalwart resistance to the medium. I watched as brick and mortar book stores were driven out of business and lamented the loss of these landmarks of learning. I mourned as my friends raved over their Kindles, Nooks, and a variety of low-end reading devices. And I was prepared to hold a wake when all of my favorite magazines began to offer “digital only” subscriptions for nearly the same price as the print editions. Why, oh why, would anyone want to buy anything in digital for the same price as the easily preserved print edition?
It wasn’t until one of my magazines offered a free digital edition as a companion to my print edition that I began to understand the answer to this question. The magazine was “TIME” and that’s exactly what I dedicated (quite accidentally) to exploring the strange new world which it opened to me. The digital edition contained more content (a plus), but this alone would be insufficient to entice me. Instead, it was the unique interactivity which drew me in. I watched as social media updates enhanced the articles. I viewed video materials which expanded upon the traditional immobilized content. I zoomed in and out of maps, photographs, and NASA satellite images. And I listened as my iPad read articles to me while I engaged in the relaxing activities necessary to ensure my wakefulness through the rest of a busy day.
Suddenly, it all made sense. Digital was not the death of learning or the tactile experiences I associated with reading: it was an expansion of them. It was an opportunity to learn and explore without ever leaving the comfort of my living room. And it was good.