Intoxicating Aroma: Paper And Ink
Wednesday - July 21, 2010
“If you are not a book smeller we have nothing further to discuss.” -Columnist Kathleen Parker
A recent house guest enjoyed much of her leisure time reading books from her electronic tablet, an Amazon Kindle. She extolled the virtues of the electronic book - a large selection from which to download, less expensive than buying actual books, lighter and handier to travel with, and no accumulation of books.
I’m an avid reader, so she tried to sell me on the Kindle. The idea just didn’t appeal to me, though I couldn’t tell her why. Then I read a July 7 Washington Post column by Kathleen Parker on how human touch influences emotions.
Parker cited studies by MIT researcher Joshua M. Ackerman, who asked, “How do we interpret tactile sensations, and how does an object’s hardness, texture and weight influence our judgment and decisions?”
In one experiment, he gave more than 50 volunteers job applicants’ resumes on clipboards of varying weights. Those holding the heavier clipboards gave the applicants higher scores, deducing that the applicant was “more serious.”
In another experiment he gave volunteers pieces of a puzzle that were either smooth or sandpaper rough. After the puzzles were assembled he read to them a transcript of a social encounter. Those who had assembled the rough puzzle rated the encounter more adversarial than those who had assembled the smooth puzzle.
These and similar experiments (hard chairs-soft chairs) convinced Ackerman that our actions, attitudes and emotions can be affected by our tactile sensations. As Parker put it, “Such musings led my meandering mind to the subject of books and other dead-tree reading products in the digital age. I belong to that subgroup of individuals who smell a book before reading it.”
She further points out that the tactile experience of reading is crucial to the pleasure of reading. “Holding a book compares to nothing short of a baby’s contact with his favorite blankie” Well, maybe. She asserts a “hardback is superior to a paperback simply because it is weightier, therefore more permanent, more important, better.”
She then makes the short leap, “might touching words on a printed page vs. reading them online also be relevant to comprehension and judgment?” And enjoyment?
The alternative, Parker writes, is words “that float on hard tablets subject to the blinking life span of a battery or extinguishable by a bolt of lightning.”
And consider how differently we think about a hand-written letter vs. an e-mail. And as Parker points out, part of the enjoyment of a snail-mail letter is touching the same piece of paper that was touched by the writer. It is more than just an act of communication, “but one of intimacy.”
Parker summarizes the effects of this vast tactile vacuum in which we now communicate, “Reaching out and ‘touching’ someone has become easier than ever but we never really make contact. Hunkered over our keyboards, tapping and clicking messages to the vast ‘Other’, we have become a universe of lone rangers keeping company with our own certitude.”
Now I know how to explain to my friend why I’m not ready to buy into her Kindle.
I just can’t smell it!
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