FIRE: Paper vs Digital Reading?

FIRE: Paper vs Digital Reading?

My first and greatest love in life has always been reading a good book. Starting from a young age I would delve deep into a novel for hours at a time, often disregarding those around me to an extreme level. My parents and grandparents indulged me to no small extent and I steadily read my worries away for my entire childhood. I had little to no friends due to this up until middle school, at which point I sacrificed some small amount of reading time for video gaming, which allowed me to relate to other kids much more easily.

My library continued to grow as I never even considered selling or giving a book away. Each book had a piece of my soul, they are actually fragments of my memory. I can look at each and vividly I will have moments leap back at me from years past.



I currently own a few different e-books, notably the Kindle Paperwhite as well as the base model Kindle Fire. I have in the past used the early Nexus 7 tablets for a variety of purposes. I also have access to an iPad with specialized software through my girlfriends work, as well as a number of different cell phones all with books on them. I will say that I bring my Kindle Fire absolutely everywhere I go, even when I am reading a paper book or two at the time. Suffice to say that I have had my fair share of these devices.



Future is Now

This is a daily carry future item. Having grown up with people in science fiction movies using holographic displays and tablets, this is one of our current tangible connections to that future realm. Being able to walk around with a tablet with internet access and AI voice assist is as futuristic as you are going to get for an extremely cheap price point. This is a reminder that we are at an inflection point in history in some regards, a tangible link. Most other futuristic tech is going to be large ticket items, gene therapy, space stations, photon torpedo’s. Currently you can buy a Kindle for $35 – they are selling them in six packs as an incentive these days. At that price point, they become practically  disposable and the cost/risk assessment is pretty easy. Most hardcover new releases are $25+ and have limited use by comparison.



One of the most key factors in this debate is the portability of an entire library of books on one device. This is fantastic for those situations where you finish one book and pick the next one right up. I learned first-hand the danger of this in conjunction with long series books. In 2015 I was gifted the entire Wheel of Time series and got stuck in a 9 month period where that was all I read. Any spare moment I had was spent plowing through thousands of pages, and when I finished one, the Kindle rolled me right to the front door of the subsequent one. I got into such a routine that it became difficult to tear myself away to any other book!


Free Books

For those of us concerned with Financial efficiency, this is a huge boost. I continually stumble upon great books that are just randomly free when you download them on Amazon. Whether it is a promotion the author or publisher is running or some kindle policy, in the last month alone I have read The One Thing and 4 Minute Marketing Plan completely free without really understanding why.


Freedom of Information

Sharing books on a mass scale is so much easier with digital files. Now everyone will have their own opinions on legality and the freedom of information, I am not going to be the one to tell anyone what is right. I know many friends that pool their resources and share a massive .mobi file Google Drive library. Torrents abound to give you most any book you may be looking for, so the cost of reading can end up dropping massively depending on the individual.


Digital Reading Tools

When using one of these e-readers, you can significantly technologically upgrade your reading style within the various menus and sub menus. If you find a difficult or foreign word, you can easily highlight and search on Google with just a few finger taps, unlike paper in which you would have a more complex task ahead. you can choose to read in portrait mode, or with a night shade light on. I have no use for complex note taking functionality, so most of this utility is lost on me. These type of improvements tend to make it more complex to do the simple things like add a bookmark or go to the table of contents for example.


Versatility and Utility

Being able to multi task is the key winner here. Having a classic book on Stoicism in hand, and then remembering you need to buy a ticket for tonight’s concert, doesn’t even require putting down the book anymore. With a few taps this book turns into a personal journal, or a movie camera, or a gaming platform. The amount of flexibility this provides is worth the cost of any of these gadgets alone. Having a notebook on hand that never needs a pen, or a calculator, or a Skype session. All too useful.  Much of this utility is likely a duplication of the phone everyone carries that would be equally useful for any of these tasks, so your mileage may vary.




I have had some pretty varied experiences in regards to the layout and editing of these digital books. When I read the aforementioned Wheel Of Time series, every page would have about 20 random spaces added in the middle of words causing poor flow and readability. I also feel that I see a much higher number of spelling errors possibly due to shoddy conversion work. This is something that will vary from publisher to publisher but can be pretty annoying and made me not enjoy the book as much.




Depending on your common reading habits this may not pertain to you. I generally used to read mass market paperbacks found in the used pile at a book store. Small enough that I used to carry a book in my back pocket pretty much everywhere I went. With that being the case, every e-reader is generally larger than that. If you are reading the newest hardcover novels on the regular than this point will be null. You will save ample weight by switching to a sleek digital book than lugging around thickly bound tomes.



The act of reading on a screen is dramatically different from reading on old fashioned paper. The way that reading on a computer tires your eyes is continued with most any of these devices as well. The main fix is to look into readers like the Paperwhite, which has a look similar to old graphing calculators- less like a screen and more like an actual print book. The paperwhite does have limited functionality when compared with an iPad for example but it is one of the best midway choices.


Over -Versatility?

These tablets and readers have various levels of utility to be sure, but often times I have found that it can be more than whats needed. Having a book to read for a nice quiet mental relaxation period is very easily disrupted by the flashiness of the Angry Birds notifications that get pushed to you if you fat-finger the wrong button. I often find that I load my Kindle Fire up with too much media that it does not even have space for more books. Having a flashing “Low Memory” warning kind of rousts you from the reading zone.


FIRE scale 7.5


What really needs to be said about the classic paper tome. People generally do not believe me when I talk about how many books I own or have read. It helps that a lot of them were childhood pulp garbage! I grew up on paper books and to this day have a book near me almost every moment of the day. Whether they are serving as current reading material, decoration, paper weight, or reminder – paperback books are an important cornerstone of what makes me who I am. I am not averse to change so I have tried E-readers in depth, but it is difficult to not harbor childhood biases. As long as we are aware of them and compensate accordingly, the results of this arbitrary contest should prove official.




Paper books are timeless. The original method has just been the bedrock of human learning and development for so long that it is extremely difficult to change your life to entirely digital. Classic always has more authenticity and right-ness to it, and reading in the same method as like scholars of years gone by is no different.



Thanks to the old fashioned distribution model surrounding books, digital copies are generally going to cost more than buying a used paperback. Most books are 1 penny on Amazon with a $4 delivery fee. Digital copies will end up costing $5-10 for what amounts to a file transfer of non tangible goods. In a sane world, I would like to actually receive a discount for saving paper and not wasting printing costs, but we are not there yet.



I generally dislike giving gifts. Giving or receiving a book is a bit different in my mind though as it has a depth to it if done with thought. Someone who knows you is gauging that you may be interested in the prose, and trust you to hand you the copy that they enjoyed so much. With digital it is extremely rare for someone to lend out books in such a manner, the act of sharing is not as heartfelt in my experience as the physical copy was never lost to the original owner.



If you grew up a reader, the smell of being deep between the pages is one that is a cornerstone of our entire sense of childhood and personal identity. I grew up with my nose buried in a book. It’s impossible for me not to love the smell of fresh or old ink. Not hard to imagine, but a Kindle does not tend to have a smell, nor should it!



This is an important thing to note in line with my Stoic roots. Losing a paperback is definitely saddening and getting them dirty or messed up is never fun. The difference between losing one book and your whole e-reader is a drastic one to say the least. While some are inexpensive, iPads easily run $400 plus just for the sake of branding and having the ecosystem. Instead of being sad you lost your lucky bookmark, you are instead trying to remotely lock and wipe your personal data from a misplaced reader. The amount of times I have lost my pocket sized novel for NYC bar nights are innumerable, I would not be so flippant were they a more substantive item.




I live in 380 square feet with my girlfriend and two cats. Both myself and my companion love books and have thousands in our personal libraries. Even if it is our most common decoration we still only have a few hundred on display at any one time. The rest are packed in boxes in dry spaces in family attics as frankly, there just is no space! NYC living is not kosher with having a massive library, a digital reader allows you to accomplish everything without using that precious space. Future plans include a full library and reading room, so they are not a total waste, just not in the cards for right now.



Trees. My ethical and moral compass becomes louder as I age. I am not yet at the tree hugging phase, but in the future I can see this becoming a problem as we continue to over indulge in the free resources of our planet.


FIRE scale



Impossible to say. I am too biased and I can admit that. I will say that I was a long time holdout but decided to try E-readers and currently use both. I carry one paperback and my digital with me in my gym bag. The weight is negligible and I do use the reader for writing notes at times as well. Being able to choose which type of viewing my eyes will be dealing with is much better than forcing it, and I really do enjoy them both and will have both for the rest of my life likely.


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