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Why the Internet will Never Replace Books

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #27, 1999.

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Sam Blumenfeld


The Internet is very much like television in that it takes time away from other pursuits, provides entertainment and information, but in no way can compare with the warm, personal experience of reading a good book. This is not the only reason why the Internet will never replace books, for books provide the in-depth knowledge of a subject that sitting in front of a computer monitor cannot provide. We can download text from an Internet source, but the aesthetic quality of sheets of downloaded text leave much to be desired. A well-designed book enhances the reading experience.

The book is still the most compact and inexpensive means of conveying a dense amount of knowledge in a convenient package. The easy portability of the book is what makes it the most user-friendly format for knowledge ever invented. The idea that one can carry in one's pocket a play by Shakespeare, a novel by Charles Dickens or Tom Clancy, Plato's Dialogues, or the Bible in a small paperback edition is mind-boggling. We take such uncommon convenience for granted, not realizing that the book itself has undergone quite an evolution since the production of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455 and Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623, just three years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth to colonize the New World.

Not only has the art and craft of printing and book manufacturing been greatly improved over the centuries, but the great variety of subject matter now available in books is astounding, to say the least. In fact, the Internet requires the constant input of authors and their books to provide it with the information that makes it a useful tool for exploration and learning.

Another important reason why the Internet will never replace books is because those who wish to become writers want to see their works permanently published as books - something you can hold, see, feel, skim through, and read at one's leisure without the need for an electric current apart from a lamp. The writer may use a word processor instead of a typewriter or a pen and pad, but the finished product must eventually end up as a book if it is to have value to the reading public. The writer may use the Internet in the course of researching a subject just as he may use a library for that purpose, but the end product will still be a book.

What really imperils book reading is not the Internet, but the public schools that are dumbing down our citizens so that they cannot read books, let alone take advantage of the Internet. But more and more parents have become aware of the dumbing down process and are now homeschooling their children so that they can become the highly literate citizens of tomorrow. As long as parents still have the freedom to educate their own children as they see fit, the ruling elite will never be able to fully consolidate its control of all the people all of the time.

Rather than replace books, the Internet is now being used by distributors like Amazon and Barnes and Noble to sell more and more books to consumers on a global scale. And even though the Internet provides consumers with a much larger selection of books than is available in any one bookstore, it will never replace the bookstore where the reader can browse to his heart's content and now even settle down in an easy chair and read a book until closing time. The big new super bookstores now serve coffee and pastries, present live readings by authors, and stay open late. They are becoming cultural hubs in their communities. The computer monitor is therefore no match for a friendly bookstore.

Nor will the Internet ever replace the sheer enjoyment of browsing in an antiquarian book store or going to an antiquarian book fair and actually holding a book and leafing through pages printed over a hundred years ago. Books provide a bridge to the past, to all of those who have gone before us and have left us the wisdom accumulated by their life experiences. Books have that magical ability to bring the past to life through the words of those who lived in years gone by. If you want to truly know history, you must read the actual words of those who lived it, unabridged and unrevised by today's proponents of political correctness.

Books are also companions in a way that the Internet can never be. The author speaks to us directly through the pages. We hear his or her voice. If the story is compelling, it will become part of our own mentalities and provide us with an experience which we will have had through the author. We will have known what it was like to survive a concentration camp, or live the life of a great actress or statesman or musician, or suffer climbing Mount Everest, or rejoice in making a great scientific discovery. Each of us has only one life to live, but we can vicariously live a great many other lives through books written by other human beings. That is why the power of the book can never be replaced by the Internet.

That is not to say the Internet is any less than it is. The Internet, as it continues to grow, is certainly one of the most remarkable technological developments in the history of mankind. Its ability to connect us all with the entire world is what makes it so extraordinary. For example, you can read the morning's headlines or weather reports in Australian newspapers, explore the subway system in Buenos Aires, or locate a long-lost friend in the U.S. if he or she has a telephone. Through email you can communicate with anyone anywhere who also has an email address. You can even discuss the latest book you've read.

But will the Internet ever replace books? Not on your life.


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