For those who enjoy reading, no other device can deliver the pleasures of the printed page
When Amazon released its first Kindle in 2007, many people said reading was about to change forever. Were they right?
I think not. While Amazon announced last week that it now sells more e-books than printed ones, plenty of readers still prefer the old-fashioned printed page to an electronic screen, and for good reason.
Of course there are advantages to being able to retrieve countless volumes of electronic information at the touch of a button. But it’s important not to confuse retrieving information with reading. Many sources of information are not intended to be read. They’re meant to be checked or scanned, or browsed or inspected. They’ve been created to leaf through, to glance at, to skim. No one reads a telephone directory.
I suspect that many people prefer spending time with their iPads not because they find reading with an iPad easier than with a traditional book, but because they prefer using it for something other than reading. For people who would rather check their e-mail, or play a video game, or run the latest app, an iPad or Play-Book is clearly the way to go.
But for people who genuinely enjoy reading, a fondness for traditional books will remain. Partly this comes from efficiency. For many people, reading a traditional book is preferable to reading on an iPad for the same reason that proofreading your written work is done more effectively using hard copy. Users say they find it easier to read and comprehend things when they’re printed on paper.
As technology improves, perhaps this will change. Perhaps new screens will be just as easy on the eyes and just as easy to fold and put into your pocket as a piece of paper. Amazon’s Kindle is intended to be easier to read than a backlit screen, for example.
But even if technology continues to improve, there’s still a case to be made for the paperbound book.
At the top of most people’s list is the so-called fondle factor. While reading, most people still prefer the touch and feel and look and smell of the printed page. This is something that’s unlikely to change, despite advances in technology.
There’s also the permanence factor. One advantage traditional books have over electronic screens is that a book will still be able to be read decades or even centuries after being printed. This isn’t true of any other technology.
Data stored on computer punch cards and microfiche slides, even if appropriately stored, are now all but lost to us. Who is going to take the time and trouble to retrieve information from their old floppy disks before throwing them into the trash? In 10 years’ time, this will be just as true of the information we currently store on iPads. The words and music we download today are no more permanent than the hardware. Books can sit quietly on a shelf, untouched for centuries.
Even more important for most users is the value books have for concentrating the mind. Now that we have them, iPads and PlayBooks in some form or another won’t soon disappear. But just as television didn’t replace radio, and radio didn’t replace the newspaper, modern technology will never replace the traditional book.
Imagine trying to read a book cover-to-cover if it were printed in the format of a traditional newspaper. Books have evolved as they have to enable readers to read book-sized chunks of material.
In contrast to the traditional book, an iPad contains too much information. It gives the user too many options. Rather than asking the reader to focus on a single work, it invites us to participate in any number of unrelated activities. Why read when you can play a game, watch a video, do a puzzle or pay your bills?
Browsers allow users to browse. Books allow readers to read.Readingrequires concentration. It asks us to focus our attention on a single author’s voice. It demands that we disentangle ourselves from YouTube.
Put another way, reading is something more than just checking a fact or looking up a source.Readingmeans understanding an author’s goals and intentions. It means following a train of thought. It means evaluating an argument.
Readingis a skill that develops in parallel to learning. It shouldn’t be rushed and can’t be cursory. It requires attention and focus in a way that surfing the web does not. As former Booker Prize chair and English professor John Sutherland tells us, reading “is not a spectator sport but a participatory activity. Done well, a good reading is as creditable as a 10-scoring high dive. It is, I would maintain, almost as difficult to read a novel well as to write one well. Which is greater, Henry James the critic or Henry James the novelist?”
If Sutherland is right, learning to read well involves more than just discovering the meanings of words or looking up a fact on Wikipedia. It means discovering connections between ideas and evaluating an author’s thoughts. It means learning to retrieve meanings that time and distance have made obscure. It means climbing inside someone else’s head, not inside someone else’s hard drive.
Andrew Irvine teaches at theUniversityofBritish Columbia. He has noticed a strong correlation between those of his students who do well academically and those who read traditional books.
By Andrew Irvine,OttawaCitizenMay 23, 20111:13 AM
Original Article : http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/books+will+survive/4825958/story.html
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