E-books: Jim’s two cents…

Written by jdarlack on August 5th, 2006

Many thanks to my fellow BibleWorks blogger, Michael Hanel! He’s been quite prolific in his blogging and his views on ebooks (written for this BibleWorks blog) have spurred discussion even on the Logos Newsgroups! I’m glad to see that someone’s reading.

Here are a few of my own thoughts about ebooks:

  1. Reference or Monograph? I heartily concur with Michael’s love of paper books. I’ve got quite a few, and I wouldn’t part with most of them. On a side note, I’ve listed my “print” library on LibraryThing.com - a great social networking site for bibliophiles, where you can showcase your own library and browse the libraries of others. In my experience, it has been much easier read a book from cover to cover if it’s printed on paper rather than on screen. I’ve noticed this even when proofing my own exegesis papers for seminary. It’s one thing to stare at a screen and scrutinize a text, it’s quite another thing to be able to view the text on paper. I always catch more mistakes when proofing a paper-printed text. Now, that being said, I can drop the printed page when it comes to a reference work such as a dictionary/lexicon or encyclopedia. Electronic texts are superior for accessing these kinds of resources. Of course, it’s a no-brainer to see the advantages of an electronic text when it comes to having grammatical and lexical information at one’s fingertips while working through an ancient text. It’s also a no-brainer when it comes to searchability. You can search etexts, but you can’t search an paper book (not without reading the dictionary cover to cover).

  2. Googlization? Our times have witnessed the advent of globalization, and perhaps the advent of ebooks has contributed to googlization. I’ve heard plenty of teachers and professors lament their student’s uncritical and lazy use of Google to find quick and dirty answers to questions that need greater thought and care. I sometimes wonder if ebooks contribute to this phenomenon in a somewhat less scandalous way.

    Here’s an illustration. I was just scanning into PDF a few pages from J. J. Wettstein’s Novum Testamentum Graecum (pub. 1752). Wettstein’s work is a masterpiece of scholarship. The amount of work and intelligence that went into producing this text is awe inspiring. Just think! This piece was written and typeset in the 18th c. with no BibleWorks, Accordance or Libronix, no computers - not even typewriters. Now, Wettstein would have benefitted greatly from the use of these modern conveniences, but think of the sheer genius and aptitude that is evidenced in this work. Think of the sheer genius and aptitude that it took to produce Gesenius’ grammar or Liddell-Scott (all before computers). I imagine that these scholars learned a great deal about Hebrew and Greek by reading through the actual text in its original language and then searching for grammatical forms by recognizing them with their own eyes rather than a morphological tag. These giants of scholarship learned much of their craft simply by reading the text - working their way through it - digesting it - annotating it and then synthesizing it. The did not simply execute a search, quickly peruse a list of hits and then jumble them into a paper. The genius of their work was the product of time and reflection. The same can be said of some the older commentaries by Hort, Mayor and Lightfoot. Their command of the ancient literature is all the more dazzling, but all the more deep and penetrating by virtue of the time they took thinking about the text while doing their non-digital searching.

    In a googlized world, we want our answers fast. We confuse volume for quality, hits for profundity and cut and paste quotes for creativity. Now sure, not all of us make this mistake, but sometimes etexts can give the final push on to this slippery slope. I use ebooks regularly. But I can often find myself using ebooks to amass information - so much information that I don’t take the time to really work my way through it to understand it. The way I generally use my computer helps perpetuate this phenomenon. I check my email (short bits of information that rarely require a great deal of effort and analytical skills to read). I read a bunch of blogs each day (again small bits of information that I can read and walk away from). I dart from website to website looking for headlines and quick info. Rarely do I spend hours at one place trying to find information, and good web designers know it. They do their best to get me my information quickly and painlessly with as little brainpower required as possible. Now, when I take that mentality into biblical research, that’s a different story. I should be praying through the text, worshipping through commentaries and exploring God’s world revealed in his Word. I should take the time to analyse and ponder. Now, of course having the etext helps me find relevant things quicker, but I still have to discipline myself to evaluate and digest material. I have to avoid the laziness that leads merely to point and click Google, BibleWorks, Accordance or Libronix searches that end in a mass of undigested information. This is not an indictment against ebooks, but it is a confession, and a warning. Beware of the fact that the medium of the text can in the end effect how you put the text to use.

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