Friday, February 12, 2010

A strange case indeed

Today I finished the first complete book I've read in a digital format: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read it in Google Books. And I hated every minute of it.

As Sandra Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, says in a New York Times forum on eBooks,
"People read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20-30 percent. Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read. Reading on screen requires slightly more effort and thus is more tiring."
Each of these troubles came into play for me, totally detracting from my enjoyment of the material. I chose the title for its compelling storyline and short length, in an effort to fortify myself against the enemy. Didn't work.

I've acknowledged a resignation to the fact that I'll eventually buy an eReader. All technological innovations with staying power become mainstream and thusly lose their classification as an "innovation", easing into an assumptive part of our lives. I never thought I'd have one of those cell phones that lets you check email on the go- texting wasn't even prevalent until I went to college; never thought I'd have a DVR to record TV shows and movies- growing up, if you didn't watch a show real-time, you didn't watch it. That is unless you taped it on a clunky VHS, whose agonizing fastforward and rewind functions made it near impossible to find the segment you were hunting for, or else you miraculously caught the show on re-run.

Some day, quite probably, eReaders like the Kindle will be ubiquitous. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said of the Kindle's success in a Slate interview,

"The business is growing very quickly. [But] this is not just a business for us.There is missionary zeal. We feel like Kindle is bigger than we are."
Bezos goes on to say that he never reads "books on paper" anymore "if he can help it". Granted I didn't read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a Kindle, but rather my computer screen. My reading experience consisted of scanning a table of contents and scrolling up and down. I could search for a word or phrase within the book if I wanted- but when have I ever recreationally read a piece of fiction and wished I had the capability of locating every mention of the main character's name, or the word "night"? Maybe students would appreciate that function, but my current perspective is that of an average reader. Even for my job as a publishing assistant I can't imagine having to parse a passage- we're concerned with the life of the material after its composition.

Beyond Google Books' reading enhancements, gadgets like the Kindle offer (pseudo)annotation, bookmarking, collaboration with other readers, etc. But "if i can help it" I still won't be reading another "book on screen" any time soon, even with the debut of devices like the iPad and the two-screen eReader enTourage eDGe, or any of the other products publicized at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in January- see a slideshow here.

This Christmas marked the first time Kindle eBooks outsold physical books on Digital reading is here to stay. But so are traditional readers like me. And I'm not moving an inch just yet.

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