I think it’s impossible to accurately determine HOW one influence has changed something WHILE that change is still ongoing. So while articles that attempt to determine how ebooks and digital connective technology have or will changed reading are interesting, such as this NPR article about digital reading and how it has changed reading and writing, I tend to read them with a very sizable grain of salt. (Thanks to Christine D. for the link.)
NPR’s article looks at the extra content and links inside digital books (which I don’t often see in the digital books I’m reading) and the phenomenon of cell phone and Twitter novels (which I haven’t read). But Lynn Neary’s article also looks at the way the writing has changed to capture our quick-to-distract reader’s eye:
Grossman thinks that tendency not to linger on the language also affects the way people react to a book when they are deciding whether to buy it: More purchases will be based on brief excerpts.
“It will be incumbent on novelists to hook readers right away,” says Grossman. “You won’t be allowed to do a kind of tone poem overture, you’re going to want to have blood on the wall by the end of the second paragraph. And I think that’s something writers will have to adapt to, and the challenge will be to use this powerfully narrative form, this pulpy kind of mode, to say important things.”
This is absolutely true of me. If a book does not grab me within the first 30 pages or so, or if something is bothering me about a character and there’s not enough else to hold me to the narrative, I have a few hundred other books queued up on the same device waiting to be read. I am not going to read more because I have other options of books to read. This is very different from the time when I did not have a digital reader with a few hundred books with me. I would keep reading because otherwise, I didn’t have much else to do on the bus, and commuting without reading is miserable for me.
(NPR.org’s examination comes also with a close up of Jeff Bezos’ Manic Monster Eye Expression [MMEE], which freaks me the hell out like damn and jack so don’t look at the picture at the top. Just look at Jane, there. Not at Jeff. Eep.)
Earlier this month, Carin sent me a link to an article on CNN from Pete Cashmore of Mashable fame in which he makes predictions about 2010 and web trends. His comments about how the devices on which we read are changing were interesting:
Paradoxically, the e-book reader is seeing traction as a single-use device. With hard-to-read, power-hungry laptop screens proving impractical for reading, and smartphone screens proving too small, the Kindle and its competitors are gaining buzz.
However, I’d argue that the e-book reader is a fad: Carrying an extra device is never desirable, and the major factor preventing convergence is the lack of superior screen technology. Flexible, expanding low-power screens on cell phones might tip the balance.
The real power of Amazon’s Kindle is its ease of use: a virtual bookstore so simple that it does for books what Apple’s iTunes did for music. The devices will converge, but the “app store” model for books will persist across all devices. The technology won’t be with us in 2010, however.
So in addition to digital readers being evaluated on the basis of whether they can dominate the Kindle and therefore be “the Kindle- Killer,” we digital readers also need to ask which digital bookstore will be the App Store for books. 2010 will likely, as Cashmore said, bring a device or devices that converge many of the features readers and non-readers use onto one portable unit. He’s absolutely right that we don’t want to carry more than one device. I surely don’t – the only reason I’m considering an iPod touch and a separate cell phone is because AT&T cellphone service sucks so almighty goddam bad in the New York metro area, and I pay for service that I literally cannot use.
If Cashmore is correct in his predictions for multifunction devices, and if, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – and Flannery O’Connor – insist, everything that rises must converge, the possibility of more functional programs targeted at diverse activities meant for a single device means that readers will have a lot to choose from when they actually sit down to read. As new multi-function devices are appearing in the realm of nearly possible and almost on sale like ships on the horizon line, I find myself looking again and again at how I read, what I read, and whether it’s changed at all.
The following aspect of my reading habits has not changed: reading is one of the very few times I do Only One Thing. Anyone with a uterus knows what I’m talking about: I multitask. Most of the time, I’m researching, writing, using Twitter, writing email, and listening to music. Or, I’m washing bottles and plates, making lunches, serving and preparing dinner, talking to Hubby, refereeing fights over Lego Sir Topham Hat, and possibly also snacking. I never do just one thing at a time. My heroine is Christina Dodd’s three armed lady from Castles in the Sky – she’s my avatar. Do you know how much I could accomplish with one extra arm!?
But when I’m reading, I do one thing and one thing only because I can’t read and focus on anything else.
For that reason, I adore the comfort and simplicity of a dedicated electronic reading device. I don’t want to have things beeping and alerting me and tempting me to Google whether the price has dropped on that giant thing I wanted. I want to do the one thing that restores my mental batteries and gives me the utter mental isolation and thoughtful peace I crave when I’m exhausted: just reading, nothing but reading, and only, exceptionally reading.
But if I am honest with myself, I admit to being lured by the following:
1. Twitter: I do like to chat idly with people about what I’m reading while I’m reading it. I am beginning to crave that connection and keep my iPhone or my laptop near me when I read. I fear this distraction and yet indulge it.
2. Note taking: I like having the ability to take notes on what I’m reading for review purposes, and have moved away from taking notes within the device on which I read. The very best for me is Google Docs or a text file saved to my Dropbox, which I can access from anywhere when I’m writing. My needs on that are relatively unique, but I know many people annotate while reading, so I may not be as alone in that one as I suspect.
3. Reminders: I always remember Crap I Should Be Doing when I sit down to read. So I tend to keep my phone near by to put a reminder on it to do something – later. I have to get more aggressive about my own reading/relaxation time, but I tend to get all anxious about forgetting whatever it is that I remembered while reading to the point that I can’t lose myself in the story again. (Neuroses: there’s an app for that).
As the multi-feature devices seem imminent, I find myself resisting the idea outright and thinking that I’ll remain with the e-Ink reader and a nearby laptop or iPhone, because no, no, no, I cannot tolerate any more distractions. But as I list all the things that have changed about my reading style and process, I think I need to tell myself to get over it and move forward – a multifunction device might work better for me. Even though I fear the loss of reading time because of the distraction of other functions and programs, I admit the allure of efficient convergence of my favorite reading program and the ancillary features I use.
The biggest problem remains my eyesight. If I read for too long on my iPhone, my left eyeball literally begins to throb and feels like someone has skewered it with a chopstick. I jack up the text size but the small reading space itself is terrible for me. The e-Ink, which I crank up to YES YOU CAN READ OVER MY SHOULDER… FROM SPACE text size, is so wonderful, I can’t even tell you. I can read without my glasses. I can’t brush my teeth without my eyeglasses, but e-Ink, oh, you wonderful retro beautiful thing, you. I can’t see myself embracing an LCD screen unless I have some serious control over the text size, layout, contrast, and foreground/background colors.
So maybe folks looking at the future of reading and reading devices aren’t throwing around predictions like a drunken fortune teller as much as I thought. The advanced connectivity to other readers has changed the way I sit and read, the way I read books when others are so easily available, and the way I think about reading. I read with a mind on reviewing, and reviewing for me is a conversation, so I converse while reading – and perhaps I will prefer having one device that converges everything I do so I don’t ever have to rise up from the couch.
Has anything changed about the way you read? Do you want a device that allows you to do multiple things? Or would you prefer to isolate your reading experience with a dedicated device like a Kindle, a Nook, or a Sony, or the original dedicated device, a paperback?