The “art” of pixelated reading

Because the Internet

“My Kindle is broken.”

These words reverberated through air, rife with particles bouncing with life and easy joy. They cut a stark contrast to the bustling banter and rambunctious laughter echoing off the wooden walls.

I looked up.

My friend across the dining table was in the process of lamenting his terrible misfortune — a downright calamity. In this rare moment of vulnerability, he was visibly upset. The death of his Kindle, in the middle of a novel he had just begun to get into, had an inexplicably powerful effect on his well being. He was devastated, agitated and forlorn all at once. This was his rock bottom.

And yet, I felt no pity.

Is that too inappropriate? Is it so wrong that I secretly revelled in the beauty of this poor man’s downfall? I could have jumped over skyscrapers, swallowed the clouds whole and leaped across Memorial Stadium in a step greater than Armstrong’s on the moon. I was delighted, joyous and interminably indebted to the greater force that had caused this miracle.

I was so damn glad his Kindle broke.

“So why don’t you just get the book?” I decided to ask. “A hardcopy can’t be that bad. It’s kind of nice to flip through actual pages sometimes, you know?”

My friend looked dubiously at me and brushed it off with a frown and a shrug.

“I don’t know if I have time to run to the bookstore this week.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: I appreciate how accessible reading has become now that we have a million mediums to find a million books online. All it takes is a download and, without even leaving the comfort of our homes, we are able to read through more words than we had ever imagined before.

But appreciation is not acceptance. And I cannot, try as I might, fathom the concept that one would skip out on reading simply because he or she cannot go out and buy the physical copy of a book he claims to adore.

There is something to be said about the weight of a novel in your hands, the way you bend the pages and leave your mark with the dog-eared pages and the way some passages develop a faint indent of a line where your fingernail traced along as you read.

But I want to leave faint indents on everything I touch. I want my actions to be indispensable. I want a book to smell differently after I’ve finished it, the characters to have leaked out through the thin paper pages and permeated through my skin and bones and the world to know that I am a different person now that I have finished this beautiful work of art.

The technological age has brought along with it too much apathy. We are taught not to care too much for anything because everything is expendable. It can all be replaced.

We leave no more marks on the books we finish electronically — only harsh, fluorescent highlights and perfectly calculated dog-ear marks put in place with the click of our touch pads.

Technology has undermined and compromised the art of the novel, for an online electronic copy of the same book cannot create such sentimental value if we know it can always be downloaded again.

The care with which editors and authors select a cover, binding, page size and shape — none of that resonates with the reader who reads on a Kindle. The art of literature is something that needs to be preserved, not abolished.

In spite of the benefits that accompany the spike of interest in reading, we cannot let technology debilitate our appreciation for the art of the novel — the art of reading itself. Our newfound technology has rendered too common the ability to obtain isolated parts of an artist’s work, detracting significance from the artist’s project as a whole.

We must respect these writers and novelists — these artists — who inspire us with their words. And regardless of how we read, we must, every now and then, go out and see these works of art in the flesh — even if it is only because our Kindle breaks.

Eda Yu writes the Tuesday blog on the day-to-day life effects of technology. You can contact her at [email protected].