Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Digital Age

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 8, 2010

     Teaching for twenty years led me towards perfecting the handout. I now have a color picture on the cover of a white notebook in which each week’s readings are divided by tabbed paper. For years, students have complimented me on the presentation, as well as the content. Recently, I added the title of the course on the side of the binder so that each student can proudly put the notebook in his bookshelf and have an easy way to find it again. I imagine my students carrying this notebook into coffee shops or reading it as they wait to see their doctor or their accountant. I imagine that the people in the waiting room might crane their neck to see what my student is reading. I envision my student proudly showing them the notebook and a great conversation begins.

      I have returned to teach a class of five students; five kind, considerate and thoughtful students. I proudly distribute my handout and almost in unison they say to me “you know, you could give us a digital file.” My heart sunk. “Yes,” I say,” that would save a lot of time and money,” while thinking that I am just not ready to stop creating my notebooks. I am struggling to accept that media is quickly becoming digitized and as such, there will be less things to “hold”. I see the benefits, but somehow I am sad to think that books could be going the way of records-museum pieces.

     A psychiatric resident and I are working together on a journal club to discuss some of Melanie Klein’s work. At the end of our meeting, I enthusiastically asked him “hey, do you want to borrow some of my books?” Gently, he said “no, that’s OK, I will just look her up on Wikipedia.” Stunned, I replied, “yea, I looked her up on Wikipedia, and I thought that was a good summary.” I think I was trying to sound hip.

        Where are the days when borrowing books, sharing the tactile experience of perusing pages of thoughtful writing, was an integral part to education? Am I old? I wonder. Or, am I living in a time of great technical changes in education? Either way, I am both trying to adapt, and protesting the change at the same time. Books take up a lot of space; they cost a lot of money. The new age will shift to lower space needs and lower cost for books. Still, imagining a world where all books are digital fills me with sorrow.

4 Responses to “Digital Age”

  1. Shelly said

    I agree with you. Nothing beats reading a novel that you hold in your hands, turn the pages, slip it easily into your purse. Now we’ve got the e-books and e-readers and people seem to like it better. Not me, though.

  2. Jon said

    There is something about the physicality of the printed word that makes it, to me, at least, much more precious than its electronic cousin. While electronic searches are most useful, the joy of having the printed copy of a cherished work is something to be treasured.

    Perhaps this is a sign of having grown up in an earlier era, but the printed word has long withstood the test of time. My hope is there will be room for both types of information delivery. Movies did not replace plays; television did not replace movies. However, we are living in a brave new world; does the internet replace them both? Will electronic media replace print? I would like to think not, but time will tell…

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