Tag Archives: ebooks

Four Months In

It’s been four months. 

On one of the teams I work for in my day job, we’ve been talking about the decrease we’ve been seeing in ebook readership growth. Overall, ebook consumption is still growing, but the rate has slowed. Corporate-type people will be the first to tell you that slowing growth isn’t per se an issue that sets off alarms; it’s more like the prickly feeling you get when you perceive that something might be wrong on the horizon. We don’t have data yet on why this trend is happening, but it’s a sign we can’t get comfortable. We need to prepare for the possibility that ebooks might go into decline and plan accordingly.

Anecdotally, the team lead raised one point; the slowdown coincides with the election of the current president. It’s possible that ebook consumption is down because time that used to be spent with ebooks is now being funneled into obsessively checking the news feeds for the latest drip of drama and turmoil.

While I’ve never been one to shy away from the headlines, I know that my digital news consumption has skyrocketed in the past months as I search for the slightest hint of reprieve, the first glimpse of relief that we’re on course to put the current nightmare behind us and get back to something resembling normalcy.

I’ve had to force myself to put down my tablet and refocus on reading print books just to break the cycle. And even then, my phone is out between chapters, just to see what I missed. This is what bothers me most about the current political environment, on a personal level. I can feel my thoughts changing, my attention span warping, even as I try to resist it. We are in the Age of Spectacle and Spectacle demands our most precious commodity: our attention.

It reminds me of alcohol, which is to say that it’s a poison, but it’s a very tasty sort of poison that one grows addicted to the more one is exposed to it. Like alcohol, I’m experimenting with stopping or limiting my consumption as much as possible.

So far, I’ve been succeeding at cutting back on the alcohol. Not so much on obsessively cycling through Allsides.com for new headlines or the various blogs I frequent or Twitter or Reddit.

It’s been hard to know what to say about everything. This is a frustrating state of being for a person who typically says too much on too many subjects, the unfortunate side effect of reading too many books and have too much access to the internet. I don’t envy people that have to do this professionally; it must be agonizing to have to choose between taking your time and getting it right, but risk getting left behind, or rushing out the door before the next cycle begins and risk getting it wrong. It’s safer to be an amateur, in this case. I’m happy where I am.

I have predictions about the future, although I’ve been so spectacularly wrong thus far I no longer trust whether I’m capable of perceiving the world as it is or if I perceive it as the way I hope it might be. I don’t think Trump will finish out his term; if he does, it’s only because investigations are slow, laborious affairs. Investigators like to be thorough, which is good, but I worry about the damage that can be done while they go about their business. I think there’s a pretty good chance of the House flipping in 2018; it’s what I’m hoping for, at any rate, as I keep an eye on the president’s popularity numbers.

Most of all, I hope that everyone eventually realizes that this level of turmoil and division cannot continue. I hope that collectively, we get so sick of the way things have been going that the pendulum swings back the other way and the next round of potential leaders are chosen because they’re stable, experienced, and/or reasonable. At the very least, that they’re capable of listening.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to read more books.

I Still Prefer Books (And Science Agrees With Me)

There’s probably something odd in blogging about the superiority of the physical page as compared to the digital screen. I don’t particularly love eBooks; as I have enumerated before, I don’t own a tablet or eReader of any sort so my experience is limited to reading on my smartphone. And that’s not terribly enjoyable.

Overall, I’d estimate that out of the 125 books I read last year, about 100 of them were physical, 20 were audio, and the remaining five were electronic text.

Fortunately for me, science suggests that from a neurological perspective, this is the preferred way to read:

The debate between paper books and e-readers has been vicious since the first Kindle came out in 2007 . . . But now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books . . . A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

My own experiences support this. I recently finished Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and I read it entirely on my smartphone. I noticed one particular advantage: my book was always in my pocket which otherwise wouldn’t be possible given that Cryptonomicon, like almost everything Stephenson writes, is around 1,000 pages. I was able to read pretty much everywhere I went which really helped rack up some extra reading time throughout the day.

But I can tell that I didn’t absorb it as fully as if I’d been reading a physical version. It’s easier to skim on a screen. You scroll through the text and “psuedo-read” what’s there, seeing without comprehending.

As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning. A 2006 study found that people read on screens in an “F” pattern, reading the entire top line but then only scanning through the text along the left side of the page. This sort of nonlinear reading reduces comprehension and actually makes it more difficult to focus the next time you sit down with a longer piece of text.

I noticed the “F pattern” creep into my reading experience. It certainly didn’t help my comprehension, even if it did improve the speed at which I plowed through the book (but since I’m reading for my own pleasure, what’s the point of going so quickly that you don’t realize what you’re doing?)

I also noticed that the “F pattern” effect began to recede as soon as I returned to a physical book. My focus was much sharper.

I have another mammoth Stephenson tome sitting in my “to-read” pile (Anathem, if you’re curious) and it will be interesting to see how the experience compares; two very long works by the same author on the different formats.