The relevance of words on paper – books, letters, newspapers, etc., and of their main repository – school and public libraries, is part of a bigger issue.
It’s an issue that places books against computers, face to face talking against over the phone or on a computer screen.
Words are just a jumble of lines in a recognizable form – it’s how those words are presented, either on the page or coming from someone’s mouth that determine their true meaning.
Personally, I prefer face to face communication because the speaker’s body language will either enforce their words or tell a completely different story.
We carry on non-verbal discussions all the time, perhaps without knowing it. Sometimes we do it consciously with hand gestures, other times it’s more subtle and unconscious: a raised eyebrow can say it all.
Which is one reason why I am not a fan of electonic meeting attendance. The most important elements of interpersonal communication are missing, and all you have left are the words.
The same holds for books and computers. Computer are great for many things and they’ve changed the way we learn and see the rest of the world.
But I don’t want to read books on a computer screen. I already spend hours each day reading emails, reports, press releases and other things on the computer, but if I read a novel, I want to hold it in my grubby little hands. I want to breathe in the smell of pulp, and rub my fingers over the smooth pages. I may even want to press flower petals between the pages, or mark a special passage with my favourite gel pen by drawing stars or hearts next to it.
Books are personal in ways that computers can never be.
Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan coined the term “the medium is the message” back in 1964 – meaning the medium influences how the message is perceived – ie. books, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, etc.
The world around us is changing and electronic communication is shaping that, but it will never eliminate the tactile pleasure – the emotional attachment – of the printed word. In some form, words on paper will always, always be with us – even if some day we have to return to clay tablets and sharpened sticks.
Wendy Coomber is the editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal.