In my freshman honors seminar on current health issues, a discussion of the impacts of screen time on sleep and stress digressed into a discussion of paper. My eighteen year old students all declared a liking for paper. They found the increasing tendency of professors, myself included, to put all assignments and syllabi online and to accept all “papers” only though an online course management system frustrating. These students want to read as much they can on paper. They say they understand it better. Some also need to write outlines and first drafts by hand. Computers are for revisions, for them, not for creativity. They like the tactile quality of paper, the way it looks when you read outdoors, the peaceful energy of holding a book, and the smell of bookstores.
Their sense of community and happiness when they shared this last thing fascinated me. The smell of books in second hand bookstores and libraries, as well as the smell of new books, is a kind of aromatherapy for them. It takes them into the world of quiet pages where all the stress and intrusion of electronics stops.
How often have you heard that young people are overly attached to their phones and live by technology? This group liked places and events where they had to be phone-free, whether it was going to church, or spending two weeks at a camp where phones weren’t allowed, or simply turning the phone off and settling down with a paper book.
I just packed up five paperbacks of Shaman’s Blues to ship to winners in my Goodreads giveaway. It was somehow special to see each book and wrap it up. The love of paper is alive and well. When I gave away the same novel as an e-book on Booklikes twelve people entered. When I gave away the paperback on Goodreads, close to eight hundred people entered. That could have to do with the price difference—a free paperback feels freer—but it might also have to do with the smell.
For a lot of people, paper is alive in some way that plastic is not. Perhaps the energy essence of a tree comes through in its reincarnation as words. I read e-books and paper books, but I only read the paper ones in bed.