There are moments in my life when I do something I haven’t done in a while, which causes me to take pause to reflect. Living in a culture where the social norms and ways of doing things seem to change from day to day, things that have permanence in our culture really stand out. Turntables. The AM and FM radio. The traditional wristwatch. Safety razors. And books. Yes, the good old fashioned paper book.

I was an early enthusiast of eBooks upon recognizing some obvious benefits, like the ability to carry with me an entire library of books on something very small, and the ability to purchase a book instantly wherever I had an Internet connection. Of course I needed a computer device to read these on to truly replace the paper book, so in 2010, I bought my first ereader; the AluraTek Libre Pro for around $150. Over the years, the battery eventually swelled and the screen cracked, and that was the end of that. Such is the fate for all of our lithium battery powered tablet style devices. I replaced that eReader with an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, 2018 edition, for just a little less than what I paid for my AluraTek. This one was waterproof, and I still enjoy using it to this day. Last year, this is how I read many great books, including the original, uncensored edition of Frankenstein. However, Amazon’s policy when it comes to digital rights management and the inability to transfer ownership from those who would buy me a book as a gift drove me towards a decision to go back to paper based books this year.

My first ereader

The first paper book I finished this year was Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday. I had been listening to his Daily Stoic podcast for a while, and this book was at the top of my wish list, and was a gift to me from my son. I started reading it in the new year, and finished it on the 17th of January. Very well written and an easy read, this book does an excellent job at covering the various things in life in which we can extract great benefit from by exercising discipline, and relates to historical figures like Marcus Aurelius, Lou Gehrig, George Washington, and Queen Elizabeth. It goes in to describe the follies of those famous people who did not follow discipline, such as Napoleon and Babe Ruth, and does a good job of illustrating that there really is no downside to discipline, with plenty of good that can come from it. It is broken up into three sections; the first covering the body, the second covering temperment, and the third covering the soul. I think it was an excellent book for me to start my journey back to paper based books, and the subject matter is probably what helped to propel me towards my meditative contemplations on technology.

My first book of 2024

As it turned out, the paper version of the book had certain advantages over an eBook which I did not consider. They only cost a couple of dollars more than their eBook counterparts, but there is no digital rights management associated with them, which means I can lend them out to whomever I wish, or even sell them; which means a paper book retains value, even if it is the few dollars more than the cost of the eBook. I didn’t need to buy an additional device on which to read my book on, and where the life of an eReader can be measured within a decade, the life of a paper book can be measured by centuries. Nobody can “Delete” or “Alter” a book that is in my collection. One thing that really stood out to me was that, with the aid of nothing more than a bookmark, I could start reading immediately. There was no delay in waiting for it to start up, no thought wasted on whether it was charged up, and no accidental touches or gestures on the screen to throw me to the end of the book. I was surprised that the book, a hardcover weighing in at 358 grams, didn’t feel much heavier than my eReader, the smallest in Amazon’s lineup, at 293 grams. The paperback version of this book weighs in at only 280 grams, 13 grams less than the eReader. The words, the sentences, the paragraphs, the footnotes all seemed to flow naturally and effortlessly. I came to realize that I didn’t need an entire library of books to take with me everywhere; it took enough time to properly read and digest a single book. This one, an easy read of 312 pages, took me two weeks of my spare time to get through.

My Kindle

I found that it became easy to change some of my habits when reading a paper book. During those times when I might have mindlessly checked my phone, I instead turned to my book in order to continue the story. Just having and seeing the book compelled me to want to read it more. But what I found most notable is how much better it made me feel; I would end each reading session feeling refreshed and relaxed, ready to go to sleep, or go for a good walk, or to start another task or work. This really took me back to the days of my younger self, when the only technology I really needed was a transistor radio, an alarm clock, a lamp, a wristwatch, and a good book or comic to read. A simpler life; a less distracted way of living. This experience really got me thinking about how I live, how I use technology, and has motivated me to take a step back, to live as I once did. Some might write this off as nostalgia, but when I look around and see these things have permanence in our culture beyond my years, I realize that there are things that are tried and true and have become perfected in our culture, and these are the things worth hanging onto in a world that seems to use a lot of effort into pushing us ever deeper into a disposable world of planned obsolescence and subscription models to forever make us slaves to every desire the salespeople can dream up.