Don't get me wrong, I think we are gaining a great deal with the advent of e-books and online publishing. But there are things about the experience of a printed book that we cannot reproduce digitally. For example the feeling of the texture of the paper in your fingertips, the sound it makes when you turn the pages, and that smell that emanates from very old books. It is also said that e-books are forever. I am not sure this is true, but even if it is, I think there is something unique about the ephemeral. The fact that print books are fragile and "mortal" makes us have a certain disposition towards them that we will never have for e-books if they indeed last forever. After all, doesn't our respect for life come from the fact that we can die?
Another thing about print books is that they can record history. These books can be thrown and dropped, they can get damaged by moisture and mold growing on them, they can get stained, and they can be marked. Many people have old books with certain marks or damage in them which they treasure because of the significance of those marks or damage. It is sometimes observed that "a face without wrinkles is like a book in which nothing has been written". Well, e-books are just such a face. If e-books can last forever, then they will look the same 100 years from now. Can you imagine a father pointing at the screen of a futuristic version of an e-reader and telling his son, "This file here was downloaded by your great-grandfather one hundred years ago." Where is the wear and tear? Where is the proof that you have traversed the ocean of time? Where are the wrinkles?
But then again, I am someone who enjoyed the vinyl smell that records released when they were opened for the first time, and also liked the fact that by looking at the grooves of the record I could tell whether the song was a ballad or not. These and other sensory experiences were lost when CD's came along. Of course, this is just me having nostalgia for some things we lost and for others we will maybe lose with ongoing modernization. In any case, the odds are that the new generations will never miss them. So go ahead and look to the future, I am doing that too, but I can't help keeping an eye on the past.