I had the pleasure of analyzing O.F. Walton’s My Mates and I in both hardbound and digital form. Leading up to the assignment, I did not believe the difference would be notable, as the content remains almost identical. In fact, in order to handle the physical copy of this 1880 children’s story, we had to attend a session of class devoted entirely to the proper handling and care of rare books. In order for my partner and I to examine the book outside of class, we had to arrange a time with the librarian where we could all meet in a special room. Contracts had to be signed, and numerous rules and guidelines were to be followed. Perhaps most notably, you can only have pencils in the room and can obviously not annotate the text. Nonetheless, there are numerous benefits and disadvantages of both physical and digital texts. This became abundantly clear through the process of analyzing My Mates and I.
After the inconvenient process of setting up a time to view the physical copy of the book, the first thing that caught my eye was the cover. This is most often the first glimpse we have of a book. After I have finished reading, I continue to associate the cover of a book with the story in my mind. The cover of My Mates and I is pretty. It’s ornate, and in my opinion adds significant value to the physical copy of the book. Had I never had the chance to look at a physical copy of this book, I would not have been exposed to the character and history associated with a particular copy of an old book. This book was given as a Sunday School gift. The pages were worn and obviously read. The book itself had a story to tell.
The digital version of the text contained the same basic content. The story and the details were the same. There is no doubt that ease of use is unparalleled. I was quickly and easily able to pull up the digital copy of the book from home. In many cases, there are a number of tools you can use to annotate digital texts with no lasting change to the book itself. Although it was rather difficult to find a nearly identical publication of the book, we managed to find something close. Despite the many benefits of technology, there are notable disadvantages. The pictures and placement were slightly different. The ornate lettering in the chapters, the pictures, and the visual appeal of the book lost significant value in the move to digital form. Technology imposed potential for distraction. Out of habit, I had tabs open of some of my favorite websites within the same browser. This could prevent the reader from achieving the preferred level of immersion in the story.
It is important to note the type of book under consideration. My Mates and I is a children’s story. I cannot imagine it would be nearly as fun to read a story like this to a child off of a computer screen. It also does not seem plausible that the actual reading of the story would have the same effect. There is certainly something to be said for the tradition of flipping pages in a book without the many distractions of technology.
Technology provides an unmatched ability to study and learn quickly from anywhere. As a college student, I place a large premium on ease of access and use. This assignment made me further consider the value of the original text. I don’t believe that digital copies will ever replace the value of the original. The same level of immersion, the history behind the copy of the text, the feel of the pages, and the emotions involved with reading a physical copy are difficult to replicate in digital form. Considering our increasingly uncertain and frantic lives, digital texts provide an extremely convenient medium of learning to our generation.