Reading in comfort

It’s an ever-changing world these days, or it was when I last checked a few moments ago. Anything that can be is being turned into ones and zeros: to be copied, distributed, even completely replaced by a digital version. But you know all that, of course, you’re online. And now so’s a literary journal I used to subscribe to. Unlike you, however, and from now on, it’ll only be online.

There are plenty of reasons why this should please me – the new version of Books from Finland, being online only, will be more environmentally friendly; content will be posted more regularly; photos can be in colour; and best of all there’ll be no subscription fees – I’ll be getting something for free that I used to pay for. So why, then, do I feel like I’ve lost something?

After all, the magazine’s reasons for the decision make perfect sense (basically the ones above, as well as wider availability), and as far as TV and music are concerned, haven’t I generally been happy enough to move the majority of my viewing and listening habits online? Sure, the picture and sound quality isn’t quite the same, but increased choice and convenience, and lower costs generally pretty much compensate for that (for me at least). So why should it be any different with reading?

Well, I wasn’t sure, and “It just is” didn’t seem a good enough answer, so I thought I’d see what reasons I could come up with:

– Unless I get a netbook, Books from Finland won’t be nearly so easy to read on the train, in bed, or at whichever overpriced coffee vendor I’ve decided to visit when I fancy a change of scenery. Plus, it never needed recharging or plugging in before.

– There’ll be one fewer pleasant surprise arriving in the mail – until I take up drunken eBaying…

– Paper’s a lot easier on the eye; not to mention that the print version was always beautifully, and engagingly designed – as you’d expect of a magazine from the home of Marimekko, Iittala, etc.

– Whatever the benefits of digitisation, there’s just something about the feel of a book – being able to flick through it, hold it, glance at each page in full – that’s so much more satisfying than scrolling through pixels on a screen and the smooth, alienating hardness of plastic and metal.

But there’s one reason even above all those, it seems to me, why I responded mostly with disappointment, and it’s another psychological one: when you’ve paid for something it just seems to have more value. Rather than waste your money, you find yourself reading that leftover article, extract or short story that at first didn’t appeal, and more often than not you’re happy that you did – because it was better than it first appeared; because you didn’t like it, but it gave you an idea; or because you learned something you otherwise wouldn’t have.

So, when Books from Finland goes online only, hopefully I’ll remember that – because that’s both the beauty and the awful time-sucking danger of the net, you’re never more than a click or two away from something more instantly appealing. On one hand, it’s never been easier to find something interesting and challenging to read, but on the other, perhaps it’s also never been easier not to?

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