What Kind of Reader Are You, Anyway?
|NYT, Brian Snyder/Reuters
I think I’ve stumbled onto actual written proof of the fundamental difference that I’ve always believed existed between the readers of traditional paperbound books and the eBook reader: highlighted in technology writer Nick Bilton’s article for the New York Times, Deciding on a Book, and How to Read It. Bilton took up the noble cause of reading a book – the same book, Caleb Carr’s The Alienist – on a variety of electronic devices (as well as a paperback version) to decide which one gave him the best reading experience.
Pretty much right away, I could tell that this guy was a different reader than myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’m just sayin’. His biggest complaint about the Kindle was the lack of internet browser: “you can’t hop off to the Web to look up facts, which I often wanted to do when reading a historical novel.” When I read, I use that time as a chance to disengage from the digital world I spend so much of my waking day in. (I mean, look at me right now, typing this over breakfast before I go to work as the web coordinator at the store.)
As for reading on his phone (an experience that makes my skin crawl):
Despite the small screen on a mobile phone, I find reading on one to be simple and satisfactory. Maybe this is because I have become accustomed to mobile screens, using them for hours at a time to check the news, sift through e-mail and navigate social networks.
To me, again, the reading experience warrants unplugging, especially from devices that have access to other bits of information. If I were to be reading a book on my phone, what’s stopping me from checking my Twitter feed after 10 seconds? I can better understand the Kindle, actually, as a dedicated reading device, free from the distractions of the interweb. Nick’s Apple iPad experience illustrated that difference as well:
…iPads offer an immersive reading experience. I found myself jumping back and forth between my book and the Web, looking up old facts and pictures of New York City. I also found myself being sucked into the wormhole of the Internet and a few games of Angry Birds rather than reading my book.
This is the big difference, to me – the “immersive experience,” as he calls it. The pages of a book are much more immersive for me than anything the internet can offer. Even when just browsing websites, I’m continuously distracted from whatever is right in front of me & I often drift off down some other rabbit hole of nonsense. This tends to not happen when I’m reading a regular book. (Maybe this would be the case with a dedicated eReader as well.) In the end, his experience with the paperback was the most telling:
For the last chapters of the book, I read the paperback. It took barely a paragraph for me to feel frustrated. I kept looking up things on my iPhone, and forgetting to earmark my page.
There’s clearly a place for both types of reader out there – those that, like Nick, prefer an experience where the reader is willing to be distracted (maybe a poor choice of wording, that) and those, like myself, who feel that the experience of reading an unplugged, printed book is fully immersive in itself.
By the way, this article also ran in the paper version of the New York Times on Thursday, August 11. That’s got to mean something, I just don’t know what.