Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Books beat e-readers as momentos

The tech columnist, Nick Bilton, urged his mother to use e-readers instead of her beloved books ("In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print, NY Times, May 13, 2015). Once she died, though, he experienced a change of heart. 
Now that she was gone, all I cared about were her physical books.
Yes, as a technology columnist, I have become acutely aware of technology’s built-in expiration date. Kindles, iPhones and those new smartwatches are designed to become outdated, and quickly. Technology is about the future, not the past. ... As VHS tapes turned to DVDs and later streaming services, I didn’t think twice about the lost physical objects — rather, I rejoiced in their disappearance.
But books, I now understand, are entirely different.
... I love listening to audiobooks when I drive. And taking a Kindle on a long trip is nothing short of magical. But that doesn’t mean I want my mother’s old Kindle to remember her by. And I certainly wouldn’t get much from her Audible collection.
Instead, I want her physical books. I want to be able to smell the paper, to see her handwriting inside, to know that she flipped those pages and that a piece of her lives on through them.
Bilton emphasizes how his senses interact with books differently than with digital texts, and that this makes all the difference for his memories of his mother. It is an old observation that our senses engage our memories in a variety of ways. Smell and sound can often provoke vivid recall of events years in the past. 

Sense and text/sense and scripture is on the research agenda of several of us this coming year. Bilton reminds us to consider the close connection between sensation--touch, smell, sight--and memory. 

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