It’s clear to see why society loves stories as much as we do. Whether they be legends, fables, myths, fairy tales, or poems, stories have been an integral part of human history for thousands of years, and many of our favourites have been passed down from generation to generation, turning slowly from oral stories into books, republished countless times in hundreds of languages, ending up on our bookshelves in brand new shiny (or matte) paperbacks, just waiting to be read.
It’s not difficult to guess why books became popular in the first place, and they’ve been in mainstream, widespread consumption in Europe ever since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press allowed the cheap production of hundreds of copies. Now, with the advantages of modern technology, we only need the physical space of one e-reader to store our entire library. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and other similar projects, books in the public domain are completely free and easy to find – there are over 50,000 of these classic books at our fingertips.
Considering this upsurge in technology, the stubborn survival of physical books is impressive; even public telephone boxes, falling into disuse amidst the popularity (perhaps even necessity) of mobile phones, are being transformed into miniature book swaps. We still have regular book fairs, bookshops selling second- and first-hand books, online booksellers, and public libraries. Books hold a special place in our hearts, and don’t appear to be fading out of popularity anytime soon. But why do we still buy physical books, especially the ones we could get for free online?
Perhaps the answer is simply nostalgia. The stories alone certainly aren’t the only reason buy books – they have a cultural significance that transcends their contents, and the aesthetic appeal of books is what draws many of us to them; Waterstones even has an entire section titled “Beautiful books”. They don’t only tell stories in their pages, but also in our own personal associations with them, their place as something inherently valued in society, and their worth as collectible objects of aesthetic appeal.
Electronics can’t quite replace everything, and we wouldn’t want them to. Books are more tactile than e-readers, and more familiar; it makes sense that we hold tight to something that’s often easier to hold, flick through, bookmark and annotate, unlike a screen with limited controls.
Electronics are prevalent in nearly all other aspects of our life – work, study, and social; books on the other hand, in all their papery simplicity, offer a haven from an otherwise technology dominant world.