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Online or Print: The Trip That Helped Me Break The Screen

I don’t know what it is about screens, but I just cannot concentrate with them. Notification this, reminder that, oh look! She favorited your tweet! Sweet.

Oh that’s right, what about those 65 pages you have to read on Kierkegaard, or the three-page response paper due in an hour and a half…where has the time gone?

It is a significant feature of today’s day-to-day existence that the more time-saving devices we seem to own, the less time is available to us, almost like Hegel’s famous master-slave dichotomy, but I digress.

Whether to read books on a tablet or in print has been a significant cause for discussion for our generation, not to mention the procrastination associated with the former.

Sure, the convenience of digital media is clearly a huge “it” factor that drives its ever-rising popularity, especially with the success of devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Many schools across the nation, including my old high school in Florida, are now joining in the online-only bandwagon where students can only access their textbooks on a tablet or on a computer.

The responses have so far been mixed: my own brother doesn’t know yet whether he likes or loathes the new system.

But what about the aesthetic of reading a tangible text and the fact that studies have shown that individuals retain more information when reading on print?

I just needed to take a break.

And of course, whenever you try to avoid something and clear your mind, it usually finds its way right back into the forefront of your life. This Saturday was no exception.

As I sat down on the T on my way into the city, I stopped by at Coolidge Corner because why not, one more frozen hot chocolate never hurt anybody.

Walking down the street, drink in hand, wind in my hair with fogged-up glasses, the Brookline Booksmith caught my eye.

“Damn, I’m caught in the trap again,” I thought. So I walked in.

There is just something intangible about the tangible quality of holding a book in your hands, almost as if you’re indirectly interacting with someone’s thoughts at a particular moment in his or her life. For me, it feels like an intimate interaction with the writer’s psyche, no matter whether he or she is dead or alive.

Her ideas and arguments remain alive in those printed pages. That, to me, is a feeling I cannot get with a digital edition.

After what could have been an hour or 15 minutes, I left and got back on the inbound T, the still-cold drink in my hand.

Wandering aimlessly (not really) through the streets in and around Copley, faceless crowds walk about me and pigeons fly above my head as I’m now in a fully-blown existentialist thought process—taking a class on Sartre will do that to you.

I see a familiar face in the distance, only for her to dissipate back into the mob as soon as she appeared.

Only when I thought I had understood just what I was trying to grasp, a sign startles me out of the stupor, a literal one, that is.

“Book Sale Today! $1 paperback, $2 hardcover.” Into the public library I go. If reading is the transportation of the mind and soul into another time, then the library has the equivalent effect for the body.

I had never been inside, but boy, I will definitely go back.

At the end of the day, I did not find the answer I was looking for on whether digital editions or print ones are superior, but what I did get was a slight insight into the minds of writers from a time past, and an experience of sights from centuries prior, all while holding onto my frozen hot chocolate.

I may never find the overall answer I am looking for, but I can substitute the current reality and substitute it with one of my own: one where the response to the question is irrelevant.

Books, no matter in what form, have a special ability to transport the mind into unfamiliar settings and lives foreign to our own.

They have a special power, we just have to let them in.

Featured Image by Fransisco Ruela/ Heights Staff

February 11, 2016