Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Impulse buying and uh..what was I talking about?

Steven Johnson asks the only question that matters around e-books.

"Because they have been largely walled off from the world of hypertext, print books have remained a kind of game preserve for the endangered species of linear, deep-focus reading. Online, you can click happily from blog post to email thread to online New Yorker article -- sampling, commenting and forwarding as you go. But when you sit down with an old-fashioned book in your hand, the medium works naturally against such distractions; it compels you to follow the thread, to stay engaged with a single narrative or argument.

The Kindle in its current incarnation maintains some of that emphasis on linear focus; it has no dedicated client for email or texting, and its Web browser is buried in a subfolder for "experimental" projects. But Amazon has already released a version of the Kindle software for reading its e-books on an iPhone, which is much more conducive to all manner of distraction. No doubt future iterations of the Kindle and other e-book readers will make it just as easy to jump online to check your 401(k) performance as it is now to buy a copy of "On Beauty."
As a result, I fear that one of the great joys of book reading -- the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author's ideas -- will be compromised. We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little bit here, a little bit there."

I've never read an e-book as such, but I know I read differently on screen than on the printed page. That may just be age, but if we all read on screen and flit about as readers, I wonder who will be left to write the sort of deeper focus works that are going to document "us" before the ADD becomes a default setting. I hope I'm wrong, but....

Posted by Dave


tom s. said...

Nicholas Carr had a nice piece about the distraction issue in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google). I think he's trying to turn it into a book, which would be ironic.

I'm conflicted about the ebook issue. I can see non-fluorescent devices like the Kindle being much more like "real" books because of the lack of glare. And the ability to increase font size is going to be very appealing for many people (myself included), especially given the crappy selection of large-print books. So on a pragmatic, case by case basis I can see myself adopting a Kindle or eReader in a year or two, once the screens get a bit bigger (rumoured this Christmas for Amazon). But the prospect of a book being tied to a specific vendor-controlled device would be terrible for the publishing world.

Interesting times.

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