Reading Between the Lines with Eva: Are E-Readers Evil?

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By Eva Monhaut

Columnist

emonhaut@iu.edu

In an age of technology, it is not uncommon to see people reading from screens compared to five to eight years ago. E-readers are portable, quite light-weight and can hold thousands of books at once versus a bookbags limit. Plus, downloading an eBook is often much cheaper than purchasing the same book in its physical form at your local bookstore. Still, as e-readers only gain more popularity, it begs the question: are they really as amazing as they seem?

From an environmental perspective, e-readers are spectacular. The one thing you learn from studying sustainability is paper is not really necessary for most things in our world anymore. Paper, in a sense, is obsolete in a world that is pasted across of every screen before our eyes most of the day. Of course, we still use vast amounts of paper every day, and paper is not going to disappear from the face of the earth any time soon– it just is not necessary for some forms of media anymore. 

Although, author of “Words onscreen: The fate of reading in a digital world,” Naomi S. Baron, makes the argument in The Washington Post that the resources that go into e-reading devices are often overlooked. For instance, vast amounts of toxin metals and renewable energy is used every day to create, transport, operate, and maintain these devices; there is nothing inherently more sustainable about e-readers. While the trees may be grateful for the presence of e-readers, other issues arise in the industry just of a different nature. 

In fact, a study from The New York Times found that “e-reader’s manufacture, along a vast supply chain of consumer electronics, is relatively energy-hungry, using 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels and resulting in 66 pounds of carbon dioxide. For a single book, which, recycled or not, requires energy to form and dry the sheets, it’s just two kilowatt hours, and 100 times fewer greenhouse gases.”

Furthermore, people often prefer to read a physical copy of a book over an electronic version because of its tangibility. Books, though inanimate, interact with us. Any avid bookworm will tell you that choosing a copy of a book has as much to do with the title itself as well as the smell, feel, and comfort of the book in your hands. You just can’t get the same experience with a screen of blue light which also is proven to contribute to headaches.

All of this isn’t to say that you should never buy an e-reading device or obsessively smash yours from a two-story window! It just proves that when it comes to the world of reading devices versus the old school hard copy, your decision should involve some level of  insightful reasoning. What is best for you may vary from what is best for the next person. Most people tend to process information better with a physical copy, regardless of those who think they gather more information from the electronic version. However, some people are more worried about saving money and e-books are cheaper if you already have a device to read them on.

So, are e-readers evil?

Well, no! But it would be extremely false to assume they are a better environmental option than typical books or that they are better for processing information. In my personal opinion, a regular book is the best option because it puts less strain on our eyes in a world where we already spend most of our days looking at screens and is a more immersive experience for the reader. 

The emotional and mental impact of a physical book is not something that should not be easily overlooked. The future of e-readers, however, is promising and as someone who is interested in making the publishing industry more sustainable the possibilities are endless. Perhaps, we will face a future of e-readers that are not as harmful to the planet, are better for people, and still allow room for the traditional book form as well, harmoniously.

As always follow me on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6143318-eva to see all my reading updates and recommendations.

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