Reading Endangered

Why read when you can browse?

It is technically possible to read a book on a computer.  Or on a smartphone or tablet.

I’ve done it.  Once.  When I was a subway commuter a few years ago I read “The Sign of the Four” by Arthur Conan Doyle on my iPhone.  It was the first and last time that I succeeded in doing so.

It wasn’t easy.  Why?  Distractions.  More on that in a moment.

There’s no question that the popularity of e-books is surging – along with the devices that allow you to read them, mostly e-readers and tablets.  But also on smartphones.  You can download applications like “101 Classics,” which offer great literature such as “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens and “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For free, no less.

But most people who read electronically prefer a larger device to do so.  A total of 38 percent of American consumers now own either a tablet or an e-reader, according to eMarketer.  That number nearly doubled from December 2011 to January 2012 – a period of one month, which meant that an awful lot of people received an e-reader or a tablet for Christmas last year.

As a result of all these e-reader sales, Amazon sold more than 365 million e-books in 2011 and is expected to sell more than 784 million e-books in 2012, according to a report by Barclays Capital.

In November of last year, Data Conversion Laboratory conducted a poll of book publishers asking them what format of book they were planning to buy next.  Fifty-four percent said they would be buying an e-book and 46 percent a printed book.

The writing, as the old saw goes, is on the wall.  Or in this case on the screen.  The printed word is heading the way of the pager, the fax machine, and the newspaper.

But can you really read a book on an e-reader, especially now that most e-readers and tablets are packed with multimedia features like email, social network shortcuts, web browsers, and games?

When you get to that particularly dry part of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” why not pop over to play a round of Angry Birds?  Or if you’re struggling with E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View,” you can decided instead to update your Facebook status.

What’s a bibliophile to do?

As Forester Research analyst James McQuivey told the New York Times:

“The tablet is like a temptress. It’s constantly saying, ‘You could be on YouTube now.’ Or it’s sending constant alerts that pop up, saying you just got an e-mail. Reading itself is trying to compete.”

I first noticed this competition a few years back when I was working on longer projects on my laptop.  My brain has been trained to consume electronic information in nuggets.  It’s Powerpoint disease where I want information served up in bullets.  Not only that but my brain has come to expect interruptions – and it some weird way – it enjoys it when I’m on a computer.

There’s my RSS feeds, TweetDeck, Facebook, Google+ and a myriad of other distractions.  So when my brain doesn’t get interrupted, it interrupts itself.  This, of course, makes it very difficult to write long reports or presentations.  Or to read long-form articles and books, which I don’t even attempt to do on devices anymore (I print them out instead).

Despite being an avid book reader, these distractions and interruptions are why I’ve avoided buying an e-reader.  I know myself too well.  By sticking to printed books, I focused better.  There are no distractions, except the story.  I tumble in and can stay engaged.  I can’t do this on an electronic device.

So for now – to protect my love of reading – I’m sticking to hard copies.

What about you?  Can you read on tablets?  Do you get distracted reading books?


New York Times article “E-Books on Tablets Fight Digital Distraction”

Why I Still Read Books

2 Responses to “Reading Endangered”

  1. It’s not about the e-format; if you really want to read the book, you’ll read it regardless of that format. It is also a matter of habit – if you are not used to reading in general, the e-format won’t do it for you. I read regularly on my Kindle Fire and love it.

  2. Hi Rali:
    Format matters – a lot. The saying “the medium is the message” is all about that. The medium always influences how a message (or content) is consumed while changing how a message is perceived. That’s why a book is so different from a movie. Why a song is different than a poem – even if the source material is the same.

    “Books” will change because of the electronic format. It is already happening as publishers add more multimedia, links, illustrations and videos to the text. I don’t disagree that you can read on a tablet – but it changes how you interact with and retain the material.

    Here’s more on the topic:

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