(e)Reading the Future

Category: Reading
Tagged: e-readers, reading

My e-reader is verging on the ancient and although I use it fairly regularly (mainly as a shoulder-saver when travelling) I’ve got no plans to update it. Why trundle on with this early and easily out-paced model? Because my faithful little machine has some very limited abilities when it comes to accessing the net – and I count that as a massive bonus.

Admitting that the constant temptation to flick through my emails or Twitter feed makes reading on my phone or fancy web-enhanced e-reader a near impossibility doesn’t say much for my self control, but at least I know I’m not alone. In fact, I’m probably in the majority, and I’m going to argue that it’s not our fault.

After all, most of us have spent years perfecting the ability to manipulate multiple pages, skim reading each and skipping between them frequently. It’s the perfect reading method for a world where everyone seems to have something to say and it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth listening to or not. So far, so good. But what’s it doing to our non-web reading skills?

When it comes to fiction, it’s nice to think we shouldn’t have to skim, process and assess. What we should have in our hands is something to sink into, something that’s already proven its worth, something that undoubtedly deserves our full attention. Unfortunately, when our reading devices have seamless WiFi access and thousands of apps, it can be hard to promise that.

Paul Mason reckons that not only are e-readers changing the way we read, they’re changing the way people write too. He thinks the proliferation of e-readers is giving rise to a new relationship between reader and writer, one where people are looking for readability over immersion.

If today’s reading habits have the power to change the books of the future, should we be embracing them rather than worrying about them? I don’t know.

I love my own nostalgic relationship with paperbacks. I love the fact the pages of books tend to tell stories of the lives being lived the last time they were read (an orange splash of citrus, a squashed bug, a bus ticket bookmark). I love the pleasures of public reading (who doesn’t enjoy spying on the books their fellow commuters are absorbed in or exchanging a smile with a fellow fan?), but maybe there are new ways to make memories.

By highlighting your favourite few lines from a book and turning on the sharing function, you’ll be able to see how many hundreds of people agree. E-readers also make it easy to search for favourite quotes, characters and scenes without you even having to remember the name of the book they inhabit. For me, these are neat tricks that don’t outweigh pleasure of the paperback but e-readers are only going to get sleeker and slicker and more popular (probably) – and I for one will be interested to see how they might impact tomorrow’s readers, writers and books. 

Image credits: Jennifer LaGarde, Diving into Digital Books 4 and Mike Licht, Mrs. Duffee...

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