The Old and the New

by syaffolee

Lately, I feel that there have been more than the usual number of articles moaning about the eventual disappearance of the old ways in favor of newer, more technologically savvy alternatives. Maybe it’s a function of my own age and generation, because I don’t feel particularly threatened by any of this change. Now at least. I’m sure by the time I’m seventy, there will be plenty of other things to grump about, too.

Take, for instance, electronic books. The biggest thing going for them is convenience. They can be viewed, manipulated, and transferred as easily as any other electronic file. A library’s worth of them can be stored in one device. The biggest downside, I think, is the power problem. As long as an e-book reading device requires a limited power source, you can’t take it with you everywhere. And until that particular problem is solved, traditional books will still be around.

Paper books, on the other hand, can be quite hefty and take up a lot of space. A bibliophile’s argument is that an e-book doesn’t have the tactile nostalgia that a paper book has and that people seem to learn better reading on paper than a screen. The look and feel and smell of paper are all object properties that have nothing to do with the educational value of the book. If one likes a book due to its physical properties rather than its intellectual properties, then books are no longer objects of intellectual taste but rather aesthetic taste. In this case, paper books will still exist, but they will be in the same category as a handmade chessboard–an object that can be used for entertainment but be mostly on display. As for learning, well, I’m pretty sure humans are fairly adaptable in learning from different mediums. To say that paper books are the only way to go would only short change our own abilities.

In an aside that may or may not be related, I’m reminded of fashion. Nothing old really disappears. For instance, glasses. The technology is already here to correct vision at the eyeball level, but I think it’s still not cheap or easy enough for everyone to get it–thus people still wearing glasses for a real purpose. But there is already a movement of people wearing glasses for fashion (hipsters and Japanese schoolgirls) so I don’t think glasses will ever really go away even when everyone has 20/20 vision. As for other articles of clothing like corsets or codpieces or stiff-necked collars–if they don’t come around in the next wave of fashion, they’d still be worn by cosplayers and historical reenactors.

And then there is the lamentation on handwriting, specifically cursive, going the way of the dodo. People cite anecdotes about how the quality of cursive has gone down through the generations, how people have abandoned cursive for print, or even abandoned writing altogether in favor of typing. I’m not sure how I feel about this. While I suppose it’s a shame that young people these days don’t have the patience or artistic discipline to master and maintain cursive skills, one would only have to look at the history of script to see that writing is always evolving. I think I’d just be happy if everyone knows how to write legibly by hand. At least that way, you’d still have a way to communicate with other people if all of your electronic gadgets are dead.

Overall, I think some people prefer doing things the old way because of the nostalgia, the psychological comfort, the ingrained conviction that since it’s worked before it would still work in the future. Younger generations will have grown up with computers and its ilk and would have no such attachment to the old stuff. Of course, you might lambast me, there are all of these other reasons that I haven’t listed to bolster the view for using paper books and handwriting. You might argue that there is absolutely no way that any of the old stuff will go away. I am no seer, but if there’s one thing for certain, things will change and people will adapt. If the old technology has enough versatility to be still useful, it will stay in our everyday lives. If it doesn’t, it’ll still be here, just in a different form–as fashion and home decoration or as an interesting widget in a museum archive.