You Can’t Make A Human Connection To An Ebook? // some thoughts on ye ol’ physical vs. ebooks debate

A blog post banner reading: YOU CAN’T MAKE A HUMAN CONNECTION TO AN EBOOK?

“I think you have a much more human relationship to a book that’s printed than you do to one that’s on a screen.”

I was watching a TED video entitled “Why books are here to stay” when the narrator Chip Kidd made that statement. My initial reaction when I first heard it was, “What—no 😲??”, and I started to draft a post about why I disagreed with him. But, when I started to consider Kidd’s opinion more, I realized that perhaps I was deliberately missing his point for the sake of being contrary 😅. So, here’s why I both agree and disagree with Kidd’s statement:

𝓪𝓰𝓻𝓮𝓮

you have a much more human relationship to a book that’s printed

In the video in question, Kidd likens a book to a human person with their faces, or front covers, and spines. He continues to say that “they can almost be your friend”—which I can understand. Carrying a book around is like having a companion with you when you’re passing time during your commute or need to take your mind off things while having a coffee.

Later, Kidd recounts the history of printed accounts and how they have developed into books as we know them. From the codex in Ancient Rome to mass produced printed pressed stories, the content and construction of books has evolved concurrently with human development and our technological advancements.

In this way, because physical books are direct products of human history, you have a more human relationship to a book that’s printed.

When you hold a physical book in your hand like our ancestors did, you’re taking part in the human tradition of storytelling.

𝓭𝓲𝓼𝓪𝓰𝓻𝓮𝓮

you don’t have a much more human relationship to a book that’s printed

Firstly, I can’t deny that it’s nice to hold and look at a printed book for a change versus looking at a screen. However, ebooks have proven to be objectively more portable and accessible to me in situations where I could use the companionship of a book. If we’re still using the friend analogy, ebooks are #realfriends.

As for printed books being objects of human history—aren’t computers and digital media also part of our narrative? Granted they’re relatively new pieces of it, ebooks can still be seen as a greater conductor of a “human relationship” because they represent another jump in our progression as a species. Even within the realm of digital media, we’re continuously building upon the history of storytelling with phones, apps, and kindles.

I guess where I initially disagreed with Kidd the most is the concept that a human relationship while reading a book is dependent at all on its format.

When I’m reading a book, I don’t think I’m connecting any less with the author or character’s experiences because I’m reading an ebook versus a physical one. To me,

the human relationship is formed when I’m reading and connecting with the story’s words and the meanings behind them,

whether the words are printed, digitalized, or spoken to me (ie. audiobooks).

𝓸𝓿𝓮𝓻𝓪𝓵𝓵

I personally don’t favor printed books over ebooks and vice versa. Although I see why physical books are here to stay—the simplicity of their traditional delivery has worked for so long—I’m not opposed to enjoying whatever new technologies are developed to read stories. Also, I’ve never consciously felt that I had a “much more human relationship” with the a book I read because it was printed, nor have I felt that I had a lesser human relationship with a book I read through a screen.

History and tradition aside, I think the most important human connection is formed between the reader and the content of a book, not the reader and the modality of a book.


Thanks for reading! What do you think? Do you prefer physical books or ebooks? Do you think the format of the book you’re consuming affects your connection to it? What do you think of the whole concept of forming a “human relationship” with a book? What does that look like to you? Let me know 😊.
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26 thoughts on “You Can’t Make A Human Connection To An Ebook? // some thoughts on ye ol’ physical vs. ebooks debate

  1. This is a brilliant discussion post! I agree with you that readers tend to connect mostly with the content and the story rather than the format although I know many readers who favour one format over another and will disagree. Personally I think there are pros and cons to each format and the wonderful thing is that everyone can choose their preference.

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    1. Thank you, Darina! And I completely agree that it all comes down to preference in the end. Readers will always find ways to justify their preferred format 😄!

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  2. Haha, comments like “you can’t have a human relationship” is the reason that ebook/physical book debates keep coming back. One thing I agree with the speaker though is that in some ways physical books DO give you this special relationship because you can hold it?? and keep it?? and everything. An ereader can give you lots of memories about reading all books but a physical book can give you specific memories about that specific story. That said, it’s kind of silly to assume that how you read a book will determine whether you have a “special snowflake” relationship with it or not – in the end, I connect to the story.

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    1. Haha, right? How you read a book is just a matter of personal preference at the end of the day, so it’s entertaining to see how people defend the formats they favor 😅. Also, I loved how you described the benefits of each format!
      And you’re right that the notion is pretty silly. I imagine there has to be dozens of factors that determine your connection to a book, and I personally don’t see format as a critical one.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with you! I’ve connected with stories that were read on my tablet, I’ve connected with stories that I read on paper books, and I’ve connected with stories told via podcasts. Storytelling is an old tradition but the way it’s been passed down isn’t static – from speech to stone paintings to scrolls to books to radio to television, etc

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  4. Personally I love ebooks. I read them faster than paper books and can read when my eyes are tired and bleary eyed. I do love the covers of paper books though. As publishers work harder and harder to make covers gorgeous I’m totally attracted to having those covers in all their paper glory. As a book blogger they make taking photos easier too. But I honestly don’t have room for a paper version of every book I read. That’s the truth, so I’ll keep buying those books on paper which I truly truly love.

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    1. That’s exactly why I like ebooks too! It is also nice to appreciate paperback and hardcover covers, especially with all the marketing and thought that goes into them, but I totally get that there’s just no room for every book 😅. I think that’s awesome that you only purchase the physical copies of books you truly love—it makes a material item that much more special. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dani 🙂💕!

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  5. I agree! I used to only like physical books, but in the past few years I’ve enjoyed a lot of ebooks (and audiobooks) as well. All forms of books are great for different reasons! I do really like buying physical books, mostly because I can flip through the pages and see my favorite parts again more easily, but I think the most important thing is the connection to the content more than anything else. 🙂

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    1. I’m glad you agree, Xandra! Ebooks took me some time to get used to, and audiobooks took even longer 😬. But, yeah, they’re all great for their own reasons 😁.

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  6. Really interesting thing to think about, especially Kidd’s point of that a physical book is taking part in a longstanding human tradition of story telling, because I’d argue that oral (so.. non-physical) storytelling is much much older, and would therefore be more traditional and human :P. We’ve had “human relationships” with stories loooong before printed or even hand-written books came along, and oral storytelling is still a very large part of many cultures.

    But I do think that humans in general /like/ to have a physical reminder of something that’s non-physical, from a simple thing like a tiny souvenir snow globe reminding us of our trip to Paris, to large communal war memorials. Or indeed, the practice recording our stories in stone or on paper. So a lot of us will simply like having a physical book on the shelf reminding us of our favorite stories. (I know I do). And so, the physical thing becomes important in and of itself (and that’s really cool). So I do agree that they’re probably here to stay, but I don’t think you can’t have a ‘human relationship’ to an e-book.

    Like you said, the way you connect to a story doesn’t solely depend on its format! It’s much more than that!

    If you want to get really philosopher-y, then you could argue that stories in themselves are non-physical, as it’s not the pile of bound paper that’s the magic, but the words making sounds and images in your head! In that sense the physical book is not much more than a signifier of the story, and not really the story itself.

    If an apocalypse would happen and we could no longer print books, we’d still tell stories. Because in the end, the stories are what matter, the stories are what is /human/. And we’ll use whatever medium we have available (and is most convenient/appropriate) to us to tell them 🙂

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    1. I love this comment so much, Lotte! That’s a really good point that our relationship with storytelling literally began with “telling”.

      And I really like the idea of a physical book being a signifier of the story! Maybe a physical book is even a signifier of two stories? Like, there’s the story the author’s telling, and then there’s the story of everything that went into publishing and bringing the book into existence 🤔. But, we don’t have to get that deep or philosopher-y 😂.

      I took a screenshot of your last paragraph because I love the idea so much! Honestly, if an apocalypse means sitting around a campfire and telling stories after a long day of survival, I could welcome the end 😂.

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      1. Oooh that’s a good point! Two stories, that’s absolutely true, because of course it /is/ important and part of our history/culture and books in themselves are amazing as an art form! So in that sense he’s right in his video, but I do still think e-books are great (and often way more accesible!) storg mediums as well. It’s just never simple, is it? 😂😂

        Haha glad you liked it! And same, if only we could skip the actual apocalypse part! 🤞

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  7. this was such a great discussion as always, Belle! (is your house Ravenclaw? you give me a lot of Ravenclaw vibes, haha 😅)
    I’ve never stopped to consider whether physical books or ebooks are “more human,” but I guess when I think about it, physical books do seem more human? but maybe that’s just because ebooks are relatively new, at least, compared to physical books, and with physical books, you can feel the actual book. but this discussion really made me rethink that mindset because if I use that logic, ebooks ARE “more human” too, so I don’t know. Anyways, this discussion was really thought-provoking and I really loved reading it! I think I’ll always prefer physical books over ebooks though, because whenever I read on my phone, I get distracted by the other stuff available to me there. Plus, I like knowing the actual page number I’m on in a book, haha!

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    1. LOL thank you so much, Caitlin 🥺💕!! I’ve taken the Pottermore quiz (a few times over the years 🙈), and I was a Ravenclaw at some point. However, these days I’m just your friendly neighborhood Hufflepuff hahaha (what’s your house?? I can definitely see /you/ being a Ravenclaw 😅).
      Right?? It’s not usually something you think about because it’s not something that specifically factors into the whole book experience. You can end up thinking in circles if you consider this “human” aspect too much haha.
      And I get how you feel about ebooks—they definitely take longer to read with all the distractions 😅.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Caitlin 🙂!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i’m a Ravenclaw!! (a lot of people get it right on the first try lmao i guess i very much embody my house)
        i used to want to be a Slytherin SO BAD, but I /never/ got it no matter how many quizzes i took. i was a Gryffindor, then I was house-less for a while, but finally, i came to the sudden realization that Ravenclaw fits me so well, and now here I am 😂

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      2. Yeah, I think you very much embody Ravenclaw—in a good way of course 😄👍🏽. I find that so interesting that you wanted to be Slytherin though! People tend to shy away from the house because I guess it had some bad seeds in the past 🤔😂. That’s awesome that you found your way to Ravenclaw eventually 😂

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      3. yeah, but I feel like Slytherins have risen up over time to become the ~cool~ house. plus, i find that the traits associated with them are good ones to have. i feel like they’re good at getting things done 😂 and many Slytherins I know are awesome people!

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  8. This discussion post is AMAZING! And I agree with you, the most real connection is between the reader and the story, so the format doesn’t count regardless. However, I do have to say that when I read an ebook that I love, I do end up buying a physical copy. The act of being able to physically hold my favorite story is important for me 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Catarina 😁💕! I’m glad you agree! That’s honestly a good way to go about purchasing books because then you just have a small, curated collection of books you really love AND can hold 😍

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a brilliant post! I agree with you – I think we can have a strong connection to ebooks, just as strong as to physical books. The key, like you said, is that I connect to the stories, the characters, and other aspects of the novel (e.g. the world) and not to the physical object, i.e. the book itself. So it matters little if it is a digital or physical copy. 🙂

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