Yes, the words are the same, whether perceived on paper or on a small, illuminated screen. But the experience is not. One can read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” on a Kindle or an iPad, but one cannot see, hear, feel and smell the story in the same way. I’m unlikely to race to the sofa, there to nuzzle an electronic gizmo, with the same anticipation as with a book. Or to the hammock with the same relish I would with a new magazine. Somehow, napping with a gadget blinking notice of its dwindling power doesn’t hold the same appeal as falling asleep in the hammock with your paperback opened to where you dozed off.
This is not mysterious. Paper, because it is real, provides an organic connection to our natural world: The tree from whence the paper came; the sun, water and soil that nourished the tree. By contrast, a digital device is alien, man-made, hard and cold to human flesh.
Future generations may never know the satisfaction of print, nor, likely, miss it — a recognition that is both sad and startling. One of my earliest and fondest memories is of reading with my father, who taught me not only to love words but also to appreciate the smell of a book. Even today, I judge a book by its smell and am always surprised when others don’t employ this obvious method of criticism.