In my experience, digital editions of novels are often discouraged from use in the academic sphere. I believe this is due to the stigma of digital versions and the ability to trust their sourcing and completeness. Anything can be put online, and even the examples on the class blog show no digital edition is created equal.
Aesthetically and emotionally speaking, turning the pages in a print edition is my preferred method. I never feel the same excitement when the Kindle app displays “98% Read” in the right hand corner, than when I realize I have one chapter left in my physical book. But in college (to keep down costs) and in my professional life (carrying books on the metro was a hassle) I used digital editions of literature. When I switched I thought my engagement would change due to the lack of an emotional response, but instead I found my engagement increased.
Digital editions bring together the written and studied word, and instant gratification. If I don’t know the definition of a word, I can tap it and the Webster definition pops up. If a phrase or excerpt intrigues me, I can highlight and google that exact spot and find secondary sources with in-depth analyses. However, not all editions, print, digital, or otherwise are the same.
Take, for example, the Project Gutenberg (PG) edition of Frankenstein. It is one webpage with hyperlinks to various chapters, but is barebones. There are no annotations, footnotes, or any original publishing information. There is no preface or quote from Paradise Lost, and the book is not divided into three volumes. There are benefits to the simplicity as it is free, wifi is only needed once, and the document is searchable (which, when PG was created was the goal). Now compare this edition to the University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) edition. In UPenn’s edition there are biographies for notable allusions, annotations, maps, critical commentaries, and much more. It is a hub of information that has set up the novel exactly as it was in print, three volumes, correct chapter numbers, and the pages are set up to mimic the original text. It is amazing, but requires consistent wifi, is exasperating and time-consuming to read as each page has to load, and the annotations, while helpful, are not as intuitive as they could be, as they are on separate webpages that draw the reader from the content.
Digital editions are a necessity for the future of the study of humanities as they offer universal access, instant information, and searchable documents; but they need to be streamlined, de-stigmatized, and created from trusted sources with accurate annotations. Print copies, while tactile and emotionally connective, require the reader access to other facilities, whether that be other works, libraries, or the internet, all of which costs money and time. On the flip side, print copies ensure that readers learn how to research accurate and trustworthy sources, whereas digital editions may be too much information, too easily.
Personally, I hope print books never die out, but academically, I feel digital editions, if created well, are more inclusive and conducive for learning. (520)
Image grabbed from Scientific American and Getty Images.