The Downside of e-Readers

There’s an interesting article in Salon about the downside of e-readers.  There is some weak research and data about people not remembering as well reading off a screen as from a book, but I think there really is a point here.

I’ve been reading a book on Kindle, and not been very satisfied with the experience.  The width and feel of a book, the sense of making physical progress through it, is much better than just seeing the advance of a progress bar. I’m less emotionally committed to completing that bar than I am to “getting through” or “getting to the end” of a book — you really make a trip through a book and end at a new place; there’s a palpable sense of movement.  A screen, however, doesn’t change.  You’re where you’ve always been, just a different set of pixels is on.

The two media really present two different purposes: reading as gathering information, and reading as a fulfilling experience.

I’m not arguing for being a Luddite; I’m just making the point that history is not a happy parade of progress.  As we gain, we often also lose.  With the advent of print, the spoken word lost much of its power — can you even imagine there were people who could recite the entire Iliad?

I suspect the switch from books to e-books will also, in time, represent some loss of ability for us, or perhaps better phrased, a loss of a more satisfying experience.

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