I broke one of my hard and fast rules about two months ago and purchased a tablet. It’s a Nexus 7, which isn’t cutting edge (since my requirements for any sort of technology are 1. it must do what I want it to and 2. it must do it quickly, I don’t really care if it has the latest facial recognition software or if it can fold my underwear or whatever. I could not care less about cutting edge and in fact have a swanky new laptop at which I spit and curse because its newness is really annoying). I bought a tablet because many of my coworkers have tablets and I’m a sucker for peer pressure. I bought it because it’s pretty and shiny and has a touchscreen and makes people who don’t have tablets go, “oooh!”
I bought it because I’ve realized that this is where books are going, and although I hate to be another contributor to the long, slow, painful death of the beast that is Printing, I can’t see any point in fighting it any longer. And I bought it because it’s really, stupidly convenient and I don’t care anymore about disappointing the rage-filled weirdo who once had a conniption fit over books before getting on a plane from Barcelona to London. She was crazy and needed a nap.
And you know, despite my reservations, I like it. Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer paper books- they smell better and look better (books read on the Kindle app, which I use, have negative personality). I think hyperlinks look sort of tacky, and I like the feel of a book progressing in my hands. The stories are the same, though, and once you get used to the font being the same in each book you pick up (I still haven’t, but then I’m the sort of person who thinks, “Gosh, this book has really great margin spacing” and feels vein-popping rage over poor font choices) you can see all the wonderful things about electronic reading.
I can, for example, read in the morning before work on my tablet, and then if I have to wait in line at the grocery store or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, I can take out my phone and it will open up the same page I was reading on the other device. This is an excellent feature for those of us who don’t want to ever be without the option of reading a book, and a terrible feature for those of us who tend to run into walls (I regret that I fall into both categories, although I don’t need my nose shoved in a book to walk into things).
The constant access to portable entertainment is invaluable. I don’t understand how non-readers entertain themselves without access to television- although I suppose the advent of smartphones has rectified this somewhat. I also love that everything I highlight in the app is stored on an external website, which means I can access and reread all of the quotes/passages I thought were funny or wise or entertaining and will want to read again. Where was that when I was in college? Can I have my money back?
However- and this is a big however- I have noticed something about reading on my tablet that deeply bothers me. My worry is not about the tablet itself, but about how we as people behave when we have access to them.
I consider myself to be a fairly focused person. I can sit and write two thousand words without breaking a sweat, I can re-shelf a cart of non-fiction books without batting an eye. I don’t distract especially easily, unless someone has doughnuts (does someone have doughnuts? I would kill for a doughnut right now). But I cannot for the life of me sit and read on my tablet in the same way I always have with a book. Here’s a typical reading session on my lovely Nexus:
Open Kindle app, select book. Read a paragraph. Hit the home button, check Facebook. Respond to comments/messages. Return to book, read a page or two. Hit home button, check work email (even when not at work- it’s a sickness). Return to book. See word I don’t recognize, Google it. Spend half an hour on Wikipedia looking up unrelated topics. Return to book. Read a few pages, get a G-chat message. Answer it. Get back on Facebook. Check Twitter, Feedly, email, Facebook again (another sickness). Return to book. Finish chapter, decide I’d rather watch Parks and Rec. Hit home button, open Netflix app.
For those who don’t mind readus interruptus, this is fine. In fact, this ‘problem” probably makes the whole experience of reading better for people who enjoy having their entire social networks at their fingertips, people who live and breathe for answering emails and talking to their friends and knowing what Mario Batali has to say on the matter of using cake flour in pasta dough (he’s okay with it, for the record, as long as a mixture of cake flour and all purpose flour is used). I’m sure that the addition of technology into books makes for a wonderful reading experience for those who are driven to a dictionary at every other word (oh, there you are, insufferable snobbery! I was wondering when you’d show up).
For me, it’s just a distraction. I’ve always been one of those people who can disappear with a book and while away the hours doing nothing but reading. I can turn my phone off, hide it in another room, put earplugs in and become a virtually indestructible fortress of “piss off, I am reading.” But with a tablet I cannot help but look to see how many people have liked my most recent Facebook post (thanks for showing up to the party, ego), or if the library is crumbling to the ground without my presence in the building (it never is, for the record), or if there are any new sloth videos on the internet. I am pulled in twenty different directions at once, and the small part of my mind which still desires to read and do nothing but read is left whining in the dust. I feel guilty for abandoning it. And I know this could all be fixed by switching off the wi-fi, but when it can be switched back on with the tap of a button, I can’t help but feel as though I’m making a half-assed commitment.
I love my tablet. I love the convenience and the fact that I no longer have to dig for batteries for my book light before road trips. I love its portability and its ease of use, I love that I can check out books from my library when I am halfway across the state and the fact that we no longer have to turn trees into pulp to have things on which to read.
But when I read on that bright white screen rather than clear clean paper, I still feel a little bit lost. I miss the peace and tranquility of paper books. I miss reading as it always has been- uninterrupted and without distractions. I suppose for those of us who are new to tablet use it’s just a matter of adjusting and that one day I will be able to read like a fiend and a book by any name will smell as sweet (metaphorically, of course- I haven’t actually smelled by tablet but I suspect it is devoid of all scent). It is my sincere hope that paper books never go entirely by the wayside, but if they do I hope that everyone, not just me and my easily-distracted brain, can learn to just read, only read, and continue to enjoy it for what it is without any adornment.