Penn State World Campus Student Jason Waltersdorff’s Collegiate Laws of Life Essay

Jason Waltersdorff, a sophomore from Glen Rock, PA who is studying political science at Penn State World Campus, recently won second place for his essay in the Collegiate Laws of Life Essay Contest. The contest asked Penn State students to explore ethical values and intercultural issues and to express their views in writing. Here is Jason’s essay:

“Books are no more threatened by the Kindle than stairs are by elevators.” ~ Stephen Fry
In a growing technological age where people can find information at their fingertips in a variety of mediums, is there a possible future where print media, particularly books, will become obsolete?  What is the future of print media?

…In Which We Discuss EMPs, Burning iPads, Grandpa’s USB Library, and Cat Videos

First this: the internet, e-book readers, tablets, and cell phones are remarkably convenient.

A student can conduct his or her research online without ever once stepping in to a library or bookstore and assemble a litany of credible, peer-reviewed sources for a research paper or thesis.  A bibliophile can catch up on the new releases and best sellers without leaving their home, just by clicking “buy with one click” on their favorite online retailer’s website—and immediately dive in to the text of their choice, without ever having to look for a bookmark or earmark a page.  Nearly anything in print can be acquired through a series of ones and zeroes that have been bounced off satellites, blasted through phone, cable or fiber optic lines, and transmitted to our devices in what seems like an instant through radio waves.

…and that is just awesome.

To be clear: there is little doubt that magazines, newspapers and nearly every other medium of written language can very easily be translated into a digital version of itself to be distributed with greater ease and a significantly reduced cost.  For these reasons, the evolution from newspapers and magazines only makes sense, however there is a certain romanticism that separate books from the others.  Sure, it is possible that in the future a grandfather might hand down his prized library to his grandson on a USB flash drive, but where is the beauty in that?  The symbolism of an ancient tome, or even a textbook from ages ago that taught something a little differently than we know it today is something often shown in film as a thing of majesty—and for good reason.  Books represent knowledge, and with knowledge comes power and strength.

The allure of the dusty old collection of knowledge is something that might not be easily appreciated by all—however there is something that is innately more interesting, more mysterious, and more sentimental when holding a book in one’s hands.  There is a practicality that should be noted as well, however.  We live in a time where seemingly all our personal information—from a list of all the people we know and their preferred method of contact to where we are supposed to be between the hours of three and four tomorrow—is recorded on a tool that typically requires an internet connection of some type, or a charged battery.  What would happen if we woke up tomorrow and some sort of catastrophe had struck, rendering all of our devices useless or all of our data gone?

We would likely miss our appointments and forget our mom’s phone number.  Sure, there are data redundancies in place to ensure that sort of thing does not happen, but if it were to happen, we must consider what would be lost with it.  Should all written record of humankind be lost simply because to streamline and simplify our lives, we chose to view books as something archaic—something we had evolved beyond?  This is one instance when holding on to the past is not only romantic, but essential.  We must safeguard ourselves and our knowledge from even that which we believe to be inconceivable.  For this reason alone, tangible copies of those stories and collections of information must not be forsaken.  One might argue that a single copy of every written thing could be kept for preservation at one enormous library—maybe one held and maintained by the United States Congress, in fact—and to this I say that when the EMP hits and wipes out all of our digital data, let’s just hope that our attacker does not think to attack Washington, D.C. as well.

Since we’re leaning on the absurd, here is another thought: when the time comes to censor something in the future, how absurd is it going to be to have a bonfire of iPads in every town square?  A subtler approach might be to simply delete the hateful book from all online databases—yet once again, the symbolism is significantly lacking.  What good is a book burning if there’s no one there to see it?

Print this part out, because this is the point: whether the reason that books will endure is pragmatic or romantic, nostalgia or paranoia, fear or love—books have their place in our society and culture and must never become a relic of the past.  Like a typo that slipped past an editor who cannot change his mistakes with the flick of a mouse—books must endure.

…if for no other reason than sometimes, it is really nice to shut everything down and get lost in a story without a window popping up in front of the text to tell me that my aunt just shared a new cat video on my Facebook page.

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