I was trawling the internet a moment ago in search of something or other, I forget. Oh yes, software updates for my android mobile phone and myriad fancy new doodahs when lo and behold, a new (to me)/old (been around since the early 1990s) journal popped up and I was off! Chasing articles, recognising names, thinking ‘Oh! this is exactly what I need for my project on the Chinese diaspora and new media’ and generally, feeling like a kid in a candy store.
The end result is a whole bunch of very good articles sitting on my desktop waiting to be read. Exciting, exhausting but also humbling because every time I am about to close a chapter of this book I am writing, I find there is more, far too much, that I don’t yet know. On days like this I feel like a child in a candy store, eyes greedy, mouth watering and forever hungry with a need born of the feast before me.
Books, words and pictures–such is the stuff of a bookworm’s happiness. It’s an uncommon term now, bookworm, I think, but it is one that suits me. Give me a choice any day and I would choose to read a book that I can hold in my hand over one that is to be read off a screen, an e-reader or heaven forbid, a mobile phone screen (I have actually done that once or thrice when caught bookless and bored–best recipe for myopia really :)).
Having said that, I am also very aware of the advantages that e-journals and pdfs lend to researchers. 1995 was the year I first heard the acronym ‘PDF’ but up until 2003 it was only still just possible to get some journals off online databases at the university library. And I remember well the fat tomes of journal collections one had to thumb through in order to access an article as well as microfiche and hideous machines that one had to operate for back issues of magazines and newspapers. In comparison to the online database, they were inconvenient, time-consuming and sometimes, downright hazardous.
Nowadays, students expect to have their reading material conveniently digitised and even fossils like me don’t want to hike down (or rather up in the case of my current campus) to the library every time an article is needed for reference.
Still, I wonder if, like me, they occasionally miss the feel of a good book, its weight in one’s hand and the pages crackling when you turn them. Or the pleasure of re-reading a favourite book, a nicely turned passage or a well designed cover or illustration.
Perhaps this is all useless nostalgia for a disappearing world of print. Current logic indicates that most published words will now be digitised for mass consumption. And perhaps what I felt was not so much a surge of affection for books and print as much as words that speak of things unknown, ideas unheard and people unseen.