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My mother is home at last after a week in the hospital recovering from major surgery. I’m glad she’s at last on the mend, but I was struck by how tech-free her whole recovery experience has been so far. From the time she checked into the hospital a week and a bit ago until I visited her back at home for the first time, I was struck by how gadget-free the whole experience had been.

Here are some of the reasons why I think the hospital is one of those places where paper might reign supreme, even years into the future:

1. Some devices don’t work in the hospital.

For safety reasons, there are some areas in hospitals where you aren’t permitted to use mobile devices. And there are other areas where you are, but you can’t get a wireless signal due to the location (i.e., basements, elevators) or interference from the machinery of the hospital.

I also ran up against some odd firewalls when I tried to connect my iPad to the visitor network so I could FaceTime with my sister. There was no problem hooking in, checking email, even using video and other high-usage stuff, but as soon as I tried to log into Google Docs, it booted me out for porn concerns.

I was briefly flummoxed as to the logic there—FaceTime is fine, but Google Docs is dangerous? Then my Beloved, who has spent time in hospitals, explained to me that cloud storage is tricky because they don’t know what you’re putting there, and they’re liable if you use their network to access anything fishy.

2. Devices are expensive, and hospital rooms are notoriously unsecured.

I visited my mother for an average of twenty minutes each day she was there, and I never saw less than four hospital employees on any visit. Nurses, doctors, med students, meal delivery people, cleaners. People were going in and out, all the time. I asked my mother if she wanted to bring anything with her, and she said they were told not to bring anything that could “go walking.” So she left all the gadgets at home. The only device I saw was my stepfather’s iPhone, which of course went home with him when he left each night after visiting hours.

3. Sick people have lower attention spans, and so they read different things.

My mother, normally a decent reader, just couldn’t handle anything long or complicated. When I was at her apartment today, I saw a large stack of glossy magazines of the type she would never otherwise read otherwise. Yes, she technically could have read Zinio magazines on her iPad, but when you combine a short attention span with an unsecured room where things could “go walking,” I can see how you’d opt to run down to the gift shop with $20 and pick up some tabloids instead.

4. People like to bring stuff: wrapped, tangible stuff.

Yes, I could’ve brought my laptop, and loaded some e-books onto her Kobo. But she was sick. She needed cheering up. Judging from the stack of books and magazines beside her couch, her many visitors were succumbing to the urge to gift, and bringing her piles and piles of paper. She’ll have enough to read for a year!

Of course, a gadget person like me might not bring her a book or a magazine, but rest assured I did not show up empty-handed. It was flowers and wine for Mom from this gadget girl!

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I guess the takeaway here is that—as I’ve been saying from my earliest days with TeleRead—it’s flawed to assume that in the book game, there is a zero-sum, either/or ‘winner’ between paper and pixel.

There are times when e-books are clearly the more convenient choice: apartment-dwelling, traveling, building a library that you can cross-reference, annotate and so on. But there are also times when paper is a better option. And I think I found one this week.

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