As promised in my earlier post today, I also want to post something positive about e-reading. While digital reading and e-readers may not be best for young readers, they can actually help some adults become better readers.
Such was the experience of Alan Jacobs, as he describes it in his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford, 2011). In a section headed by the words “True Confessions”, Jacobs tells about how he came to use and came to love to use his Kindle. It happened in a book store, as he sat down with arms full of books – large books, with small print – good books he wanted but didn’t have room for at home without giving up other books.
So he bought a Kindle. And he discovered that it not only solved his immediate space and storage issues, but also helped keep him reading. Here’s his story and explanation, something perhaps you can relate to as well.
And that’s how the Kindle worked for me when I first got it, and for the most part still works today: it kept me reading. Think how easy it is, and how tempting, when you’re reading a novel to look ahead to the end. Maybe you just want to see how many pages there are in the book, to know how much you have left to read – but, of course, you might just sneak a peek at the last paragraph while you’re at it. You can do this on the Kindle, but it’s difficult. Similarly, when reading many different kinds of books you might want to take a look at the table of contents, to check how many chapters there are, whether they have titles, what the titles might mean, and so on – and again, you can do that on the Kindle, but only by moving your hands in a different and less natural way than you employ to turn the pages as you follow an argument or narrative (81).
And then Jacob’s goes on to state:
In short, once you start reading a book on the Kindle – and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried – the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else. E-readers, unlike many other artifacts of the digital age, promote linearity – they create a forward momentum that you can reverse if you wish, but not without some effort (81).
To which he adds these thoughts yet:
I don’t think that e-readers are going to be a cure-all for everyone in need of cultivating better and longer attention. But I do think that my experience suggests it’s not reasonable to think of ‘technology’ – in the usual vaguely pejorative meaning of that word – as the enemy of reading. The codex [book] itself is a technology, and a supremely sophisticated one, but even digital electronic technologies vary tremendously: e-readers are by any measure far less distracting than an iPad or a laptop. It’s at least possible for new technologies to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (82).