Paper vs. Digital: a personal perspective.

Books in: R.A. Salvatore signed!Someone asked about whether people preferred reading paper books or digital on Twitter, and I responded ‘paper’ with a brief and slightly inaccurate explanation.

So I’ll be less brief here and more accurate.

This is, of course, my experience – and my opinion.

When it comes to what I read, I rarely read novels these days – novels smaller than the ones in the picture (picture less than 500 pages) are sort of like snacks for me. Louis L’amour novels are typically done in a matter of hours.

When I read these days, it tends to be on different specialized topics – my father would complain I read only textbooks when I contributed to our library when I was in secondary school. It got worse since then.

What happens with all that reading is that I end up with references – sometimes I’ll poke back to a book and find something I’m not sure about, or look for a quote, or try to align ideas from other books. To do this, over the years, I’ve used my memory of the books themselves – shape, size, even smell, weight… I remember the books like objects.

Here I am, someone who has worked with data for decades, and I can tell you that the digital formats are also objects. They are not dynamic, like software (well, some are these days), so the way I remember things with digital revolves around how something works – not how something sits there and does nothing.

What I have found is that with digital books, I cannot reference as easily. Maybe it’s a problem I have, maybe not, but it’s simply that way for me. I can look at a bookshelf, though, and find a specific book and drill down to what I was looking for faster than I can search a digital text.

I know there are tools for digital text. I’ve tried them. I’ve used them. I’ve Grepped like a maniac. But in the end, I may not remember the exact words I’m looking for… but I can remember page numbers, the weight of the pages on either side of something I noticed. I can find what I need in the books I’ve read, no matter how old.

Maybe the indexing system of my mind is antiquated, a holdover from the times before the Internet. It is, however, what I have, and what I use.

Paper wins.