Saving Trees and Money: Textbooks Go Digital

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A college in rural Missouri is attempting to remove all books from its school. In an effort to cut costs, Northwest Missouri State is providing students with laptops filled with downloadable versions of required textbooks. Refered to as e-books, they contain all the same information as normal books. Some even have interactive features.
I greeted this news with a sigh of relief and a scream of joy. As the world moves to a more digital age, I am typically reluctant to investigate new gizmos and widgets. But this time was an exception. An all-digital book system would be superior to a paper one. Despite the difficulty of the change, the new system is more convenient, more eco-friendly and cheaper.
The shift from paper textbooks to digital ones would not be a simple one. The bottom floor of UC Irvine’s bookstore would become virtually useless and staring at electronic screens for extended periods would severely hurt our eyes. We would also lose that cozy feeling that books give us, as well as the purely visceral pleasure of turning a page after the text has been conquered by your eyes.
Still, the ability to transfer electronic books makes the change tempting. We would no longer have to dread the day we purchase books and no longer have to lug almost 100 pounds on our backs. A student could learn wherever he or she could bring their laptop. The next time we go home for Thanksgiving we would not need to sacrifice luggage space. Books required for higher learning could be sent around the world. Anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection could explore new worlds.
The new digital age of higher learning would bring environmental benefits as well. I imagine that by the time I have graduated, I will have purchased 10 trees in books. With all the editions of each textbook, every reprint must use millions of tons of paper and destroy countless trees. Once the books are outdated and are no longer able to be sold, they become landfill waste if they are not recycled properly.
Perhaps most importantly, especially if we consider the economy and our tiny wallets, these electronic books save money. The entire system we quickly grew to hate would disappear forever. The entire process of buying a book for hundreds of dollars to use for two months and then sell back for pennies would vanish. Book prices for higher learning are almost a punch line to the world’s least funny joke. New editions get printed every year in order to keep the book you already have from being worth more than the toilet paper it is likely made of.
E-books would be a different story. The course packs we buy are already considerably cheaper than the full textbooks. Digital books would be an even smaller price in comparison.
However, the system is not without fault. With electronic copies floating through cyberspace, there will no doubt be increased piracy issues. Sites devoted to giving you the best in pirated books about quantum physics will rob your professors of their hard-earned money.
However, the risk appears to be worth the rewards and only serves to follow the current trend toward digitalization. The time has come for colleges to understand the digital age and switch from an archaic and over-priced system with a poor environmental impact to the digital age of information.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.

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