Cheeseburger Gothic

E-readers and the death of reading

Posted December 1, 2014 into Books by John Birmingham

Still without internet. Probably won't be back online until Thursday arvo now. One upside, it's forced me to ponder my reading habits. I've been using the new waterproof Kobo for a review when it comes out, but I had a few thoughts about the nature of electronic reading I wanted to think out loud here.


Beeso and I have previously discussed the distracted nature of reading on an iPad. Or rather, my problems with distraction, which he doesn't share.
Back story. I made a decision to stop buying books from Amazon about a year ago. Specifically, to stop buying Kindle titles. I never really used the Beast of Bezos for hard copy titles. I did like the Kindle app, however, and thought the Paperwhite was a good ereader. But my issues with Amazon's business model grew to the point where I couldn't keep supporting them; a decision made easier when they broke their own system with the launch of their com.au site.
I've been using iBooks for about a year. It's not as cheap, and the overall selection is undeniably poor compared to all of the other online bookstores, not just Amazon. But for me, the range of choice in fiction is more than adequate, and the app is a lot more elegant than the Kindle's.
Still, I always had the same problem reading on an iPad. No, not screen glare. I don't read outside. Distraction. Whenever I was in iBooks, there was almost small, remnant part of my attention which was not focussed on the book I was reading. Instead it was flitting over the dozens of apps I knew to be a simple swipe away. Magazines and news sites I could be reading. Aggregators I might profitably trawl. Games I might play. Music to listen to.
A dedicated e-reader (or an old fashioned paperback) render this problem irrelevant of course, and at times I've banned the iPad from my bedside with that in mind. Having the net cut off for the last fortnight, and having the review to write of the Kobo Aura really forced the issue. And raised another one.
A couple of months, maybe even a year ago, I wrote a po-faced retort to Josephine Tovey's essay about her inability to finish any of the books she started reading. I suggested she needed MOAR SPLODEY and less thinky in her reading list. But I think there's more to it than that.
I think distraction is a problem even when the whole world isn't a finger swipe away. Having most of my entertainment options taken from me by those two lightning strikes has not just given me a lot more time to read, it has forced me to spend more time reading. The book I chose to test out the Kobo was Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. I picked that up on Murph's recommendation and when I'm finished I'll give it a review too. It's the sort of quality B-List pulp I find hugely enjoyable and usually consume like M&Ms, ie. in lots of short bites.
I've been reading it as I used to read, however, when I had time, in my teens and twenties. Not just a page or two every now and then, but a chapter or three in one sitting.
(Even that's not how I really used to binge read books. I was capable of plowing through hundreds of pages a day. A couple of titles a week. But I was a free man in those days).
Because I've been thinking about the reading experience – remember, Kobo review –
I've been pondering how I might have read this book differently on my iPad. I'd have squeezed in a page or two, here and there, usually late at night when my eyelids were already drooping, with the words skimming across the surface of my mind like dead leaves on a frozen pond, leaving very little trace the next day. Instead, I've been biting off thirty and forty page chunks to chew over in one sitting, often at lunch while I try the Kobo out in a variety of settings.
I honestly believe it's helped me appreciate and enjoy Correia's story more than I would have otherwise. Books are not blogs. They are composed in scenes, and chapters and longer, slower narrative arcs. Not just two hundred word brain farts. To really appreciate a story, we have to let the author tell it at his or her own pace, and if that means you need an hour to fight off the giant stone gargolyes attacking the secret insane asylum for survivors of previous monter attacks, then you need to invest an hour doing just that.
It makes me think I have to find some serious reading time a couple of days each week, and quarantine it from anything that might draw my attention away. And I don't mean the time I already spend reading for work either. That can be up to two hours a day, but it is work, not fun. Study, not relaxation. And unless I'm reading for work, it probably shouldn't be on the iPad anymore.

48 Responses to ‘E-readers and the death of reading’

Noely has opinions thus...

Posted December 1, 2014
Reading is my most favourite past-time, though, having a small business & family I have found the only way to actually continue to enjoy it is to be strict on it.

So every weekend I have at least one afternoon where I have 2 hours allocated that are mine, the family & everyone else can get stuffed. I sit on the back deck with my book (real book), glass of wine etc and just lose myself in the book. As you mentioned above, you need to read in serious doses to fully enjoy.

I also read every night before I go to sleep, though use a tablet (2nd hand from daughter who needed an upgraded one for Uni) for that, purely because I had to get glasses last year & being able to increase the font size on the screen means I don't need to wear my glasses in bed & get annoyed. BUT I have nothing else at all loaded on the tablet except my books. The Wi-Fi is turned off - I only turn that on when I am actually downloading a book - and that way I have no other distractions when I am actually reading, again, making it more enjoyable.

Dunno if that helps you, but I know it sure as hell helps me & keeps me sane, and reading ;-)

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted December 1, 2014
Whoa, Noely. That's hard core, but not a bad idea. I have so many fkn iPads lying around this place I could easily set one aside to do this. Then again, I also have a heap of ereaders too. I may have a little problem.

Andrew ducks in to say...

Posted December 1, 2014
JB, I second this. I keep a second iPad for just videos and books; - no email, no apps, no distractions. I can go oldskool and use safari and log in to the distractions, but that is a 'nuff of a deterrent

damian would have you know...

Posted December 2, 2014
That's definitely what I'm doing when I eventually replace this Samsung phone - the screen is terrific for night reading, so it'll end up dedicated that.

On a side-note the interesting thing about smart phones and possibly tablets is how they continue to be useful after being replaced in their original purpose. Old iPhones are still worthwhile music devices, for instance.

Must say the image of that Kobo in water prods me to think of, possibly want, that feature... I spent a bit of time last summer with the old Kindle in a zip lock bag floating around in the pool under a shade sail (I say sail, it's actually a large trailer tarp suspended in space 20 feet above the pool). With a floating bar, this arrangement worked well and I can see how avoiding the need for the bag would help.

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted December 1, 2014
Most of my e-reading would be on the train, and as I don't have wireless capabilities on my tablet, I don't suffer from the problems of distraction, although there are a few games etc that would still work. Talking books might open up the possibility of "multitasking", but then I'd probably end up doing both things poorly. Of course, if the book was good enough, you wouldn't be thinking of your Twitter account or whatever.

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted December 1, 2014
me too most of my reading, on a kindle, is done on the commute to & from the city each day. That's 50 minutes each way and great chunk of reading to think over.

pi has opinions thus...

Posted December 1, 2014
Same for me. Commutes have always been the time for me to read a book and listen to music. If it is an especially good book, I stop by at the pub on the way home.

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Fakir Farkomungo swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 1, 2014
You haven't addressed the obvious question (to which the commonplace but wrong answer is "affordances").

(As an aside, I can't bear the Kindle's typography. 21st C tech in the service of 20th C era poorly-typed manuscript? Will be interested to read what you think of the Kobo).

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Blarkon reckons...

Posted December 1, 2014
Check out Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains" - available as an audiobook. Discusses the very issue of how our minds are being almost "reformatted" (and how previous technologies, such as writing, also "reformatted" the way we thought)

Dave W would have you know...

Posted December 1, 2014

The bigger question of reformatting due to the internet is interesting.


However I certainly found that my reading experience had to be reformatted for the ereader. I initially found it artificial and difficult, however after a couple of months I find it no different to a hardcopy book, in terms of feeling immersed in the book.

she_jedi reckons...

Posted December 1, 2014
Greg and Dan have a great interview with an anthropologist on SE2KB who's studying the plasticity of the mind and how we can re-program it, deliberately or inadvertently, over time. It probably fits in with the reformatting theory in Nicholas Carr's book. One example was the epidemic rise of myopia across the developed world as computers became mainstream, and our hunter gatherer need for perfect long distance vision for spotting prey has been superseded by the way we read things up close on screens and tablets etc.

Personally I don't find I'm easily distracted reading stuff on my iPad; but watching TV with the iPad around? I'm a shocker. I'm dipping into the iPad to check what actor is in that movie that I can't quite place, then getting distracted looking at the coming soon section of SBS On Demand to ensure my playlist is up to date, and then just giving up and watching an SBS video on my iPad instead because oh look shiny!

TheWah is gonna tell you...

Posted December 2, 2014
You can find our interview with Dr Greg Downey about brain plasticity riiiiiiiiiight here ...

http://smartenough.org/episode/64.0

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beeso puts forth...

Posted December 1, 2014
I think I read 70 odd books on the iPad last year, but for some reason having infant twins seems to have killed my attention span, think I'd be lucky to have read ten new books this year.

I never have any problem with what I'm reading on, phone, paperback, iPad whatever. The only one I dislike is large hardcovers. Too heavy.

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Miss Maudy asserts...

Posted December 1, 2014
When I made the decision to cross over from paper books to an e-reader, I was primarily motivated by space constraints (not allowed to kick out any of the people who live in my house to make room for moar books. Also, in danger of concussion from the to be read and the just need to have beside the bed pile). But I didn't want to be restricted to buying books from Amazon, and I decided I wanted a dedicated device for reading books - pretty much to avoid the distractions and to not break the "no technology in the bedroom" rule we have at ours, so I went for the Sony e-reader, which, while it has really crappy internet capabilities, is most definitely a book. It took a little while, then once I got the hang of it, it was no different to reading a paper book, and because it has a wee light on it, Sir Reginald no longer complains when I read in bed!

The best thing about the e-reader for me was going away on a road trip, being able to make myself a reading list for the trip, carefully select ten or so books for the reading list and have the whole lot fit in my handbag. I've found that there's the odd book that's better on paper (I cannot read Terry Pratchett electronically. There's something analog about him that requires paper.) And I can generally buy books from where ever I choose!

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Murphy would have you know...

Posted December 1, 2014
It seems I get more reading done when Cindy is out of town (for those not on Facebook, we are officially engaged today, btw) than I do when she is around. Love is a distraction of sorts and perhaps worthy of a discussion at some point.

I still prefer the paper books. After an initial fling with Amazon's Kindle and their app I've written it off as a waste of my time. I use my iPad Air for many things but reading anything longer than 5000 words isn't one of them.

My consumption of those books is at a much slower rate. Twenty years ago I would have chewed through MHI in days, not weeks. I suspect part of why I go so slow is that I am a notoriously fickle, difficult to please, easy to annoy reader. My patience is slim on the best of days with a writer and if they tread on my nerves one time too many I fling the book across the room.

Thus I savor a good one while I have it because I don't know when I'm getting the next one. The same rule applies to my non-fiction. I've got a number of Classical Roman writers on my shelves and I sip them the same way I would a good bourbon. Once I've finished reading them for the first time I'm done. There will be no more of that first time savor. After that, I'll merely be pour more hot water over old tea leaves.

So, I think part of it is down to age and impatience, which is less an issue of distraction by technology as one might think. The other part is that I tend to read while I eat alone, something I do not do much of these days. When I do have time to myself, I tend to spend it working on my own writing.

My two cents.

Respects,
Murph
On the Outer Marches

Bangar ducks in to say...

Posted December 1, 2014
Congratulations !

Murphy has opinions thus...

Posted December 1, 2014
Thanks!

JG puts forth...

Posted December 2, 2014
Congrats, Murph!
JG

Murphy_of_Missouri mutters...

Posted December 2, 2014
Thanks!!!

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Blarkon mumbles...

Posted December 1, 2014
Here is the article that was the genesis of the book I referenced upthread

"The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains" http://www.wired.com/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/all/1


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Therbs asserts...

Posted December 1, 2014
Congrats Murph!

Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 1, 2014
Thanks, Therbs. :D

Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted December 1, 2014
@therbs, ditto!

Bunyip is gonna tell you...

Posted December 1, 2014
@therbs, ditto ditto...

BTW, @therbs, if you haven't read any Correia, you should. His elves will amuse you, and his gnomes.... are different.

Oh, and AFAIK no hobbits.

Murphy ducks in to say...

Posted December 1, 2014
The elves are priceless.

Dave, thanks!

Respects,
Murph
On the Outer Marches

damian mumbles...

Posted December 1, 2014
Said it elsewhere but congrats here too!

Anthony puts forth...

Posted December 2, 2014

And again, congratulations.

And I like the Orc chopper pilot.

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Surtac puts forth...

Posted December 1, 2014

I've used a Kindle Keyboard for about three years now, and I've noticed that over 90% of my reading is now on that platform - in fact over the past six months only one book I've been reading has been in paper form, and that's purely because I couldn't find an ebook version (Paul Virilio's The Administration of Fear if anyone is wondering).

This doesn't mean I've stopped buying physical books - far from it. I still buy new release hardcovers from the authors I actively collect, but I'm also more likely now to sling them an extra royalty payment for an e-version as a reading copy. And I'm much more willing to take a chance on something new that has been recommended to me if I can find it readily in e-form, rather than traipsing around actively having to look for it.

I also like the way that Bezos' creation will let me sync my reading between the kindle and my smartphone, so if I find myself with 10 or 15 minutes at a loose end (usually waiting for SWMBO and the family) I can just pull out the phone and continue reading the current book. For me that's a really useful feature.

And yes: congratulations to Murph!


Murphy mutters...

Posted December 1, 2014
Thanks!

damian has opinions thus...

Posted December 1, 2014
Yeah it's the sync that keeps me locked in. I split my reading between a now aging Samsung phone with the fableous OLED screen that makes it perfect for reading in bed, and the old keyboard Kindle. App on the iPad only where there are diagrams or something.

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Lulu reckons...

Posted December 1, 2014
I still read dead-tree books exclusively. I read a lot from the library, so the cost isn't really a factor, and I like the "tactility" and being able to flick back & forwards easily (particularly with non-fic). There's also something about seeing my bookmark at a certain point: knowing how much I've read, and how much there still is to go.

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Bunyip mumbles...

Posted December 1, 2014
Serious answer: This reminds me of having to read PDF technical reports on the same device as that which I had to answer impatient emails asking me if I'd finished reading darn PDFs, and had a draft of my own report. I used have to print the whole darn thang, and read it whilst on the evening or morning commute.

Ditto for reading at night/pre sparrow fart, whilst trying to dispel insomnia. I'll read a cruddy old Sci Fi hardcopy again, specifically because I cannot jump down an interweb / wikipedia rabbit hole. It's the text or yawny boy, and nothing else.

tl;dr Time and places for accessibility? Works for me.

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Shifty Tourist mutters...

Posted December 1, 2014

I've always been tempted to try some kind of electronic reading device, but haven't taken the plunge.... just to throw a spanner into the works, I am quite partial to an audiobook now and then... especially good after a day of staring at a screen all day, to close the eyes for the train journey home and be immersed. Its a bit of an expensive luxury, I indulge in only once in a while.

Its not good if you are prone to distraction, because if you start internetting while listening invariably you will lose the thread of one or both.

Oddly I did not find it distracting to either task while listening to an audiobook while playing Dark Souls.

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Bangar is gonna tell you...

Posted December 1, 2014
Considering there's no more room on the shelves it's mostly ebooks now. Of course some books have to be purchased, the scribes autograph scrawled across the screen would make reading on it awkward.

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pi asserts...

Posted December 1, 2014
I have two ipads in my house, but I read my kindle far more than I use either of them. I understand the hate of amazon, and i'll get around to changing it one day, but three clicks to get any book I want... it's hard to say no just one more time.


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bawpcwpn mumbles...

Posted December 1, 2014
I was on the bus reading the other day and pondering this very idea. It came to me that I am my most engaged in reading when I am on a long train or plane journey, and I've got nothing else to do. Also when I'm at the beach by myself, I was free of other distractions and read quite a lot. I miss consuming books in one session though like I could with Harry Potter's or when I was home sick.

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Jane puts forth...

Posted December 1, 2014
Growing up on the outskirts of Perth we had no TV and no phone (and no internet!) Through sheer boredom I learned to read when I was four. I lost myself in books for years and years and years - still love them and dream of days uninterrupted by children (not that I don't love them) where I can read for days on end without interruption.

My children are both dyslexic and it makes me sad that they will never do this. We compromise with audiobooks but reading for them is more of a chore than a pleasure.

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Darth Greybeard reckons...

Posted December 1, 2014
I'm splitting my reading between tablet and paper and finding the same problem with distractions on the tablet. So easy to check Twitter, email, Flipboard, news sites or whatever - plus the lighted screen isn't the best way to get to sleep. So if I want to concentrate on something or relax in the evening I'm reading proper books or magazines. Can't read on planes, even with NC headphones. Happier just wandering around in my own head.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted December 1, 2014
Tie some string to your ankle, or better yet bread crumbs, a trail of breadcrumbs. Nothing could possibli go wrong.

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Ciara puts forth...

Posted December 1, 2014
I read what I call fun books on my kindle app, and more serious ones in hard form. The former can be consumed in small chunks. My commute is around 15 minutes, when Metro trains behave, so they're perfect. I have to plan otherwise. Like you I'm easily distracted and have technology everywhere. Strangely once I recognised I no longer had the same attention span I made more time to read.

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El Scurvo ducks in to say...

Posted December 1, 2014
I just read old fashioned books. I even turn the edge of the page to mark where I am at. The most techno part is turning the reading light on and off and I mastered that one years ago.

Its a tactile preference. Also is a far better weapon against rampaging lifeforms bent on mischief. Try bashing the snotters out of that white tip with your ereader kindle thingie as see how far that gets you.

JG mumbles...

Posted December 2, 2014
Same. I'm sticking to paper. Definitely a tactile thing. Just more relaxing. I don't like reading from screens.

Now reading Margaret Atwood's 'Oryx and Crake'. Better late than never. Terrific book, borrowed from my daughter.

Having a book in sight with bookmark inserted prompts me to keep reading; to finish a book started. I certainly don't read anywhere as much as I ought to. I used to devour books as a teen. Probably now only read 5-8 novels a year. Distracted easily (eg reading in snippets online - link play etc), and I don't have the passion for reading that I once had.

Interesting discussion here, particularly the point about technology's role in neuroplasticity.

JG

Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted December 2, 2014
I always refer to Atwood's novel as Ork and Crackhead. It was the first of her work I read, and pretty much the last.

Respects,
Murph
On the Outer Marches

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Sparty reckons...

Posted December 1, 2014
You had me at "giant stone gargolyes attacking the secret insane asylum for survivors of previous monter attack".

but back to the topic, read mostly on a kindle (I'm UK based but deliberately registered it to US Amazon for cheaper books ( and no VAT Tax). But I actually probably buy more hardbacks than I used to but more often than not signed by author etc as shelf decoration.

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Vovchara is gonna tell you...

Posted December 1, 2014
Since i've to spend around 3 hours everyday on the way to work/back (including waiting on the train stations for delayed trains :) ), i have a plenty time to read. And e-books are in this case literally god send (if i believed in such an entity), easy to cary, easy to spontaneously to start a mandatory yearly re-read of "weapons of choice" :D, easy to buy a new book to read.

I have to shudder every time i remember when i had to haul 500 pages door stopper with me X)

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Rob is gonna tell you...

Posted December 2, 2014

I have a Kobo but I cant get the software to update on my sons laptop. So its gathering dust at the moment. Just reading a book called Disobeying Hitler (very slowly , its a little dry) but its a hardback. I'm pretty sure if it was on Kobo I would have given up , but its a big book so I feel I as I have money and pride involved I had better finish it. My tablet remains unused except when I feel like pinging angry birds around. I dont get distracted by the internet, I used to when it was fresh and new and crap (pre-google) and funny, I really only visit a few sites, FB, google blogs, The Atlantic, maybe villiage voice. My gaming PC however is a big distration of explosionly goodness but then so is my airbrush, tattoo machines, studio and paint brushes. Blank newsprint pads of paper and ball point pens are where its at.

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Therbs ducks in to say...

Posted December 3, 2014
Reading? such an old fashioned concept.

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w from brisbane mutters...

Posted December 3, 2014
I suffer from the distractability. Most of my sustained reading is on paper books.
Back in the 90`s, I lived in my unit by myself. No computer and no TV, by choice. Gee whiz, I could read some books. At one stage, I decided to get into Dickens. I read Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Bleak House over 3 consecutive saturdays. They are not short books. Start about 9am, pausing occasionally for refreshments, finish the book by that evening. It was an epic way to read a good book. It seemed the proper way. A totally immersive experience. I could not do that now, because internet. It's my failing.

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