Not that long ago, before the nuclear and Seforim proliferation age, there was a dearth of available texts in the Yeshivos. Rare was the Baal Habos who owned his own Shas. Bochurim needed to wait on line, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning to peruse the only dog-eared copy of Ketzos or Rashba that their yeshiva owned.
And this was in a time when printing was rampant. Take it back a few hundred years, before the printing press, and it was even more difficult to obtain the classic Talmudic texts and commentaries.
Fast forward to our era, when every Bar Mitzvah boy owns a Shas, we need to reflect on whether we are better off now or then.
One advantage to scarcity, is a stronger appreciation when you finally obtain the object. Memorization is more easily accomplished when required by necessity. Our generation is sorely lacking this skill.
Another related phenomenon that I’ve noticed in the past few years is the exponential growth of the photography industry. Standard film has become virtually nonexistent due to digital photography. While this has certainly made photo taking cheaper, the sad side effect is that although more and more photographs are being taken, less and less actually make it to a physical hard copy. I pity the person who stores all his memories on his hard drive, only to suffer the consequences of a hard drive crash.
My second grade Rebbe gave me a Tehillim as a prize for an ENTIRE year of effort. I cherished that little Tehillim, taking it wherever I went and tried to memorize portions of it. Today, such a gift would be meaningless. Every Chasunah or Bar Mitzvah participant receives an equivalent, if not nicer gift.
I might have 40,000 Seforim available on my hard drive, yet the Bochur of yesteryear probably learned more with only 100 Seforim at his disposal.
Newer editions of Seforim are produced every year. Better fonts, more footnotes, critical footnotes, square letters instead of Rashi script - so many improvements, but I somehow believe that the Yegiah of sweating it out with a Rashba from a bygone era, mistakes and all, is more conducive to productive learning.