Commentary

The upside of old-school in a digital age

Books and DVDs make for a more enjoyable experience than their digital counterparts. (Photo: Sarah Mateshaytis)

From music to movies to textbooks, our world is dissolving into a montage of digital data. Even our social experiences are being captured online - thanks, Facebook, for removing a sense of physicality from our day-to-day living.

And while this era of digitization comes with its advantages, it's just not the same (read: not as good) as the old-school ways that came before it.

I don't want to curl up on the couch with a good e-reader. I want the book. I want to turn the printed pages. I want to break in the spine.

I don't want to listen to MP3 files of my favourite album. I want to slowly lower a turntable's needle, watching the LP spin as I listen to the music.

I don't want to watch a movie on my 13-inch computer screen. I want to go out to the cinema and watch the big screen, snacks in hand, or even browse the rows of shelves at a video store, picking up each movie case to read the description on the back. 

I want a tangible experience.

Now don't get me wrong, I both know and appreciate the many advantages of the digitized world - the accessibility of material, the convenience of getting things online, the interactive nature of such content. But when it comes down to a matter of enjoyment, I like the "real" (if you will) version so much more.

Reading research

In May 2011, Amazon.com announced that e-book sales had outsold print book sales and that for every 105 e-books the company sold, it sold only 100 print books.

While tablet and e-reader sales have continued to increase in Canada and the United States, skyrocketing in December, a recent survey conducted by GfK MRI's iPanel - a survey group made up of e-reader and tablet owners - concluded that 65 per cent of tablet owners said they found reading a print magazine to be an overall "more satisfying" experience than an electronic magazine.

Satisfying indeed. Perhaps like me, they appreciate physically engaging in an activity, stimulating the senses with actual objects instead of images behind a screen.

A tactile experience with objects allows us to fully engage in the act that we are carrying out - whether that's reading, watching or listening. And the more we engage in an activity, the more we get out of it. 

I think it's this engaging element that makes an experience more enjoyable.

And there might just be some validity behind that. 

In a study published in the Journal of Research in Reading, Norwegian academic Anne Mangen found that our bodies play a vital role in our reading experience - whether it's for pleasure, work, or educational purposes.

She states in the article that when using a digital reading device, "the feeling of literally being in touch with the text is lost when your actions - clicking with the mouse, pointing on touch screens or scrolling with keys or on touch pads - take place at a distance from the digital text."

We aren't able to fully immerse ourselves in the text when what we are reading is removed from us, in this case hidden behind a digital screen. And as a result, we don't read as effectively.

Playing an active role

While I'm not necessarily worried about how "effective" my reading, movie-watching or music-listening experiences are, I am worried about how much I enjoy them. And I think the two go hand in hand.

When you engage yourself and your senses in an activity - smelling the aroma of popcorn in the theatre or lowering the needle onto the record - you are part of the activity. You are part of the experience in that moment, and not simply watching the moment. You've given yourself an active role in the experience and that very role makes it all so much more enjoyable.

So, I urge you to make yourself active. Everything around us seems to move at such a rapid rate and emit that digital glow that we've become all too accustomed to. But we don't' seem to realize how beneficial it might be to power down.

Maybe it's time to turn off the computer and pick up a book. You might just remember how much you love it. 

Comments on this story are now closed