I have been reading a journal by Rodney A Smolla entitled “The Life of the Mind and a Life of Meaning: Reflections of Fahrenheit 451.” In his paper, he remarks that “our world today is increasingly a world of diminished sensation. We trade physical reality for virtual reality.” He talks about how we are so connected to our technology that we see everything via our laptops, and we lose the physicality of books. For example, we don’t go to the library like we used to–we forget the journey of the senses that takes place when we open a book, smell the paper, feel the texture of the pages. We don’t have to make a trip to check out a book, or browse the library shelves for a title that catches our eye.
I remember when I was a little girl in elementary school. Every Friday afternoon we went to the school library where the Librarian would gather us at her feet. We sat cross-legged in a semi-circle around her while she read us a book. When we were older elementary kids, we took field trips to the public library. We all signed up for library cards and learned how to find the books we wanted to read. Then we were allowed to go get them and check them out. I remember the smell of the library–and every library has the same smell. Books smell a certain way. There is a feeling in the air of a library, one of quiet and peace. If you look around at the people reading in a library, they are all people visiting another place and time. They are all on a mental vacation.
Reading is the one of the most important of leisure activities. We slow down to a disciplined pace, and our thoughts become directed by what we read. We go along, still and relaxed, yet alive in our minds. Our minds are moving, reaching, learning, experiencing, and feeling. We find meaning in reading because reading connects us to the world. This is what CS Lewis meant when he said that “we read to know we are not alone.” Yet, this is exactly what Bradbury is warning us about in Fahrenheit 451. Smolla says that “an overly virtual world will ultimately become sensorially deprived, thought depleted, and meaning impoverished.” Without books to link our senses to our thoughts, we disconnect from the world, and loneliness follows.
My husband still goes to the public library. He spends time there wandering through the stacks and reading in a corner. I once asked him why he didn’t just order the ebook and his answer was “it’s not the same.” And he’s right. It’s not. It’s not the same at all.