Digitization: A Loss or Gain in Literacy

As technology continues to progress in our society, so does our ability to process information. The texts that are available in print slowly make its way into e-books and/or other digital formats. Our sense of touch becomes a swipe on a screen. The difficulty I often have with digitization is that it may presumably deter the reader’s desire to traditionally pick up a book and physically feel the effects of flipping the pages.

In my undergraduate seminar course, our theme was books about books; essentially one of the primary foundations of a book is the format and layout. Page breaks may not always make it when transcribed, and the meaning of those page breaks are lost amongst other elements in say, the shift in scenes, etc. However, one could also argue that the content or writing style should be a preset or clue to the shift, if the reader was attentive.

Another aspect that may be lost depending on the age of the text is the design and history of the pages. This is essential when there are only few editions of the work in existence. For example, one of our assigned texts in the seminar course was¬†People of the Book; in it,¬†Geraldine Brooks introduces the Haggadah, a Jewish text, and its travels through different owners. Throughout the restoration process, Hanna finds different objects that make its way into the book, such as a type of butterfly’s body that is unique to a certain place. By going through this process, she is able to understand the impact of the Haggadah to those who admire it as well as those who feel threaten by its existence. However, Hanna is just one person gaining a glimpse of the text, and if not for digitization, texts like the Haggadah would not be accessible to us online.

I suppose the benefit, then, of digitization is that it allows more people to have access to reading limited texts and gaining a grasp of the history behind the works. For modern works, I feel that readers, particularly college students, may feel dissuaded to purchase printed copies as they are more expensive than digital editions. In fact, the existence of Project Gutenberg makes it easier to avoid purchasing a text altogether, if it is available. However, it is important to keep in mind that these translated copies may not have page numbers so it is not as easy to remember where you are in the story.

The “reading brain” is questionable in its retention of information. Is our brain interacting with the text the way it did before? Are we remembering where we left off in the pages, or are we relying on the digital text to do the job? (456)