Luddism and Ebook Readers

booksI ran across another one of those articles the other day. You know the ones – “Social Media Are Destroying Our Connections To Real People!” “Computers Rot Your Brain!” “If You Don’t Feel Guilty About Your Use of Technology Yet, Here’s Why You Should!” This particular one is entitled “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books“, and takes a dig at ebook readers. Granted, this article is a lot better than the last one I read on the subject, which cited a study that said we read differently on a screen than on a page (we skip around on a screen, as opposed to the “linear” reading we do on a static page), and then concluded from that that you shouldn’t read books on your Kindle (because a Kindle has a screen). D’uh. Apparently the authors of that particular article haven’t ever actually looked at an ebook reader, particularly the e-ink ones like Kindle or Kobo – it looks exactly like a paper page, you don’t scroll or jump around visually. Just line after line of text, and then you “flip the page” with a touch of a button or a swipe of your finger.

Anyway, this article I read this morning actually has some interesting info: they’re citing a study that found that paper readers had a better recall of the timing of events in a story than Kindle readers. The researchers speculate that it’s because a Kindle always feels the same, no matter where you are in the story, whereas in a paper book you have the tactile feedback that tells you how many pages are left to read – so you know that when the detective ran across the red herring, you still had half the book in front of you, so it obviously wasn’t close to the end of the story.

Sure, it makes sense. And all those articles do have a point. However, have you noticed something about them? All of those pieces of writing decrying the evils of technology are on the Internet. Guess what? You won’t be able to read that article about the evils of reading on a screen on anything but a screen. That video clip about how social media cut us off from real people went viral – on social media.

There is a certain amount of hypocrisy about all of that, wouldn’t you say? And what’s more, it has an all-pervasive flavour of Luddism. “Everything Was Better in Ye Olden Dayse”, that sort of thing. “If it’s new, and especially if kids like it, it must be bad.” And that’s an attitude that is suspect right from the word Go. I’m all in favour of doing things the old-fashioned way (I made grape jelly without commercial pectin the other day, and was thrilled when it turned out), but that doesn’t mean that the new way is inferior and to be avoided. That’s Luddite alarmism, is what it is.

See, the fact about that article is that while it claims to give “Great News For People Who Read Actual Books”, what it really does is give Bad News to Ebook Readers. It sets up reading on paper as superior to reading on an ereader – and for what? Probably just so that paper book readers can feel smug, and ebook readers feel guilty.

I’m sorry, I have no use for that kind of snobbery. It doesn’t really do anybody any good, least of all us bibliophiles. Of course I love my paper books, I’d never be without them. (In fact, I built me a new bookshelf just a few days ago. No, getting rid of enough books to make them fit the existing shelves isn’t an option. Sorry.) But my Kobo is also a great way to do reading. In a little package the size of a thin paperback I have about 250 books stored – I don’t think I can fit that many hardcopies onto my new shelf, and it’s three feet wide and four feet tall. If I want new books, in some cases I can get them instantly. For example, just the other day E. L. Bates recommended a series I hadn’t read, and when I went on my library’s website, it turned out to have the first of the series available as an ebook. In five minutes I had that library book in hand, even though it was Saturday night and my local library branch wouldn’t open again until Tuesday. Thousands of classics of world literature are available for free from places like Project Gutenberg and the MobileRead website, and many more brand-new books from self-published authors on Amazon and Smashwords.

koboSo stop it with the Luddite reading snobbery already. Ereaders are a fantastic way to get at more reading material, to carry it around with you, to expand your reading horizons. They’re not inferior to paper books, they’re just different. A new way to indulge your love for reading. That’s something to celebrate, wouldn’t you say?

Life, the Universe, and Ebook Readers. Where are you getting your daily reading dose today?

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1 Comment

Filed under books, this and that

One response to “Luddism and Ebook Readers

  1. I totally agree! I love my Kobo and will I admit there’s likely to be a difference in mental processing between reading from a webpage and reading, say, an article in a paper journal I think that reading a novel on an eReader is very different from reading a webpage on a computer screen. Interesting about the tactile feedback and timeline memory, though. I’ve noticed that I keep a close eye on page-counts when reading on my Kobo, and I’m always doing mental math to figure out that I’m twenty percent, or two-thirds through the book. Maybe I’m trying to replace the tactile sense of where I’m at in the story with a mathematical substitute. For us the library is 100 km away, so I very much appreciate downloadable loans.

    Liked by 1 person

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