Thursday, October 2, 2014

read on

“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.” 
― Douglas Adams

I've been long overdue for a post about digital books. I don't know why I haven't written about this hot topic yet. Digital books, e-books, i-books. Whatever you want to call them, they are now an integral part of my everyday life.

So why have I been avoiding the topic? Because I don't have any hard set opinions on which is better. 

Here is where I'm coming from (and what I'm debating).

1. I am completely undecided about digital books vs actual books. Because I read both. I know this may be hard to believe, but I currently have two hardcover books checked out from the public library, along with an audio book (which I refer to as a "cd on tape"), and at least a dozen e-books on my iPad (by way of the Kindle app). Yep, I've got books in all formats. So which is my preferred method? I still don't know. I read them all, with no major problems. +0

2. I do not believe there are any long range studies that conclude without a doubt anything about the use of e-books. How can there be? The internet/e-book world hasn't been around long. I'm not saying I don't see any studies posted. I do. It's just that every week a new study comes out, typically contradicting last week's study. How about we hold off on any e-book "conclusions" until significance has been taking into consideration? +0

3. The data does show, however, that reading online does not damage your eyes. I heard this rumor throughout college, as my classmates found themselves needing glasses more and more. This is not the fault of reading on computer screens. This is a result of aging and lots of reading in less than ideal circumstances (too close, not enough light). And I speak from experience: in the fifteen years that I have been reading 8+ hours a day on screens of all shapes and sizes, my eyesight has never gotten any worse. I will need "reading glasses" in a few years, but that's from the decrease in elasticity in the crystalline lens in my eyes, not from a lifetime of reading online. +1 digital reading.

4. I had a horrible first experience reading online. It was in the form of the GRE exam I took my senior year of college. I didn't know until I went to register for the test, but the only way the test could be taken was on a computer. Not a huge deal for the vocabulary section, but a horrific way to attempt to answer the questions about the passage. This was over a decade ago; reading online was not interactive at all. You couldn't touch the screen, let alone highlight a word, see the whole passage alongside the questions, or go back to the passage. You had no choice but to read the passage as it was printed on the screen, half at a time, and then answer the questions on a new page. No exceptions. No underlining, no going back, no fun. It turned me off to reading online for a long long time. +1 actual reading. 

5. The book writing and publishing industry seems to be doing okay with the mass switch to digital books/reading. Unlike the music industry, it's a lot harder to pirate copy a book than a song. I have yet to unlawfully obtain a digital book. It's not a battle I see being waged. If anything, we are seeing more books because of digital publishing. Case and point: Fifty Shades of Grey. Sigh. Not a selling point for digital books. +1 actual books.

Is this what the library is starting to look like?

In summary, the digital world has yet to win me over. But it's not because it's bad for me or my eyes. It's more a behavior change. I mean, eventually my computer went from my desktop, to my lap, to my hand. It appears books are following this same course. I have found that e-books travel well. Although computers/phones/tablets eventually run out of power. And they are hard to take to the beach. And I can't exactly read them in the bath. But they're portable. And they contain entire libraries of books in one single click. So, I'll give digital reading another go around. But for now, nothing beats turning the pages of an actual book.

Final count: 
Actual books/reading: 2 points
Digital books/reading: 1 point

Conclusion: Reading always wins


  1. Anonymous10/02/2014

    Physical objects create physical spaces, which shape the world we interact with on a day to day basis. A bookstore/record store has value in enhancing a neighborhood, even if you don't intend to purchase anything there, because it attracts people to the area, which in turn livens things up considerably.

    1. Anonymous10/02/2014

      So do buggy whip shops and landline telephone shops and sheet music shops.

  2. absolutely! +1 for actual books (and still the winner!) although anyone who reads is a winner in my book.