September 27, 2016
In chapter one, Take it and Read, Piper discusses historical text dated back to the end of the fourth century. Piper outlines the important relationship between text and touch and how the book has served as a tool of reflection. He introduces ‘touch’ as the most elementary sense. Piper uses the sense of touch to recognize that the physical connection between humans and text is constantly being challenged by new technology. He argues that digital text has altered the human physical connectivity with the written word. Our generation has become reliant upon digital text which provides a stimulation that diminishes the authenticity of the book.
Piper discusses the end of the fourth century, the time of St. Augustine and his influence during the development of Western Christianity. Piper addresses this time period when codex formally took the place of the scroll. At the time, codex was the most common and everyday form of reading material. St. Augustine’s conversion to Christianity was enlightened through his physical connection he felt when reading the bible. The bible and its material function was a symbol for St. Augustine during his conversion. It “was an affirmation of the new technology of the book that within the lives of individuals, indeed, as the technology that helped turn readers into individuals” (Piper, 2012). Turning the pages of the book was powerful enough to change him from a reader to a spiritual human being.
Piper conveys his ideas through St. Augustine’s experience with codex. Piper’s idea that the book can turn a reader into an individual carries immense responsibility. I find it intriguing that by holding a book, the reader can feel the way that it is bound together. The pages and print provide a different connection; one that many prefer over reading off of a screen. Before reading this chapter I never put much thought into why I preferred the authenticity of holding a book as opposed to digital text. Piper’s discussion of the sense of ‘touch’ and its definition as “the most elementary sense” (Piper,2012) provided some answers for me. Pipers explanation of the book as a tool of self reflection allowed me to better understand his argument.
The ‘at hand’ concept of the book provided a climactic period in St. Augustine’s life. The material ability of the book created a physical sensation through touch. It also created an unexpected spiritual relationship. I learned throughout this reading that the hand is symbolic for openness. While our hands are open our minds are open. The transition from the scroll to the book allowed for humans to physically feel, what Piper calls, the ‘graspability’ of a book. I prefer to hold a book and read the pages over reading the same story from an e-reader. When I am holding the book in my hands, the book also holds my attention; immersing me in the story and characters without any distractions. This codex form allows me to access the story that is inside of the book.
I realized that my imagination is far more creative and meaningful when I plunge into a book’s story line than when I have the ability to skim through digital text on an e-reader. The words on the page become multidimensional. For many, books have been an immediate source of media from a young age. It is comforting to know that the book is there, regardless off its different formats.
Piper continues his argument by stating that digital text cannot be held or grasped. The folds and pages of a book have now been transformed into an unreliable online world. Digital text can be altered and deleted making it hard for readers to trust. I agree with Piper when he says the online world may seem a little out of touch. This is because anyone is capable of going online and changing information. I strongly believe that technology has made the mind of our generation lazy.
A book should always be a symbol of freedom of mind and imagination. As Piper states, “our hands are becoming brooms, sweeping away the alphabetic dust before us”, (Piper,2012) just as every new media is sweeping away a book’s authenticity in some form. I hope that in future years, readers will still have an urge to pick up a book and make a connection, similar to the one that I feel. Physical touch with a book has allowed me to realize the potential in my mind that I do not feel with digital text. I believe that there will always be an intimacy in holding the book and flipping the pages.
Piper, Andrew. 2012. “Take It and Read”. In Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1-44.