September 7, 2010

My Last Paperback?

A cou­ple of years ago, my brother bought me a first gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle for my birth­day. At first I used it quite a bit, but then in 2009 I started read­ing a series of books I knew I’d want to high­light the heck out of and phys­i­cally share with oth­ers (Here Comes Every­body, Com­mu­nity, Groundswell, What Would Google Do, You Are Not a Gad­get, Switch, etc.), so I switched to print reading.

It wasn’t as con­scious a deci­sion as that sum­mary makes it sound. Both of us in the house wanted to read them, so buy­ing for the Kin­dle just wasn’t prac­ti­cal. All of a sud­den, months had gone by and I real­ized I hadn’t used the device in quite a while, so I pulled it back out. I was also feel­ing a pull to go back to using it because of Will Richardson’s post about, explain­ing how I’d finally be able to get my high­lighted text out of an ebook.

One thing that post made me real­ize is how print has become a bar­rier to my blog­ging about books I’m read­ing because I don’t have time to tran­scribe the pas­sages I’d want to refer to in my writ­ing. And like oth­ers, I was wor­ried that buy­ing a book in Kin­dle for­mat meant I’d lose it if I ever stopped using that par­tic­u­lar device. Luck­ily, though, Ama­zon finally fig­ured out it needed to make its books software-based instead of hardware-dependent, so I feel like this is less of an issue now that Kin­dle books live on mul­ti­ple platforms.

my highlighted text from "Hamlet's Blackberry"
I have 347 high­lights from “Hamlet’s Black­berry” that have auto­mat­i­cally been tran­scribed for me!


(Side note to pub­lish­ers and book­stores: you still need to move to a uni­ver­sal for­mat. This doesn’t let you off the hook for work­ing this out.)

This left one major bar­rier to a com­plete con­ver­sion to ebooks, one I thought I was still strug­gling with — the shar­ing. But when I read Clay Shirky’s book Cog­ni­tive Sur­plus and real­ized I’d have to man­u­ally type all of those inter­est­ing quotes… well, that’s when my per­sonal prac­ti­cal­ity started to tip the scale away from print towards elec­tronic. In fact, my desire to share those pas­sages widely has actu­ally trumped my tra­di­tional love of shar­ing phys­i­cal books locally.

This rev­e­la­tion astounded me. I knew my desire to share con­tent was the prime dri­ver of the for­mat I was choos­ing, but I didn’t real­ize how quickly it was shift­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion. I now want to share one-to-many, not one-to-one, and I just don’t have the time or resources to tran­scribe every­thing I want to share. It makes me sad to look at that long list of print books I’ve read over the past year that I likely won’t share here because I can’t copy and paste.

Around this same time, I real­ized I wanted to take a fic­tion break, and I knew exactly what I wanted to read — Ver­nor Vinge’s Rain­bows End — a book Eli Neiburger had rec­om­mended to me as the most real­is­tic pic­ture of libraries and infor­ma­tion in the future (boy was he right, but that’s a dis­cus­sion for another post). I’ve wanted to read it for quite a while, but I’ve been try­ing to move my fic­tion read­ing to ebooks, and this par­tic­u­lar title isn’t avail­able electronically.

I really needed that fic­tion break, though, so I broke down and bought the paper­back. I get in most of my read­ing on the train to and from work, and while hard­cov­ers aren’t exactly a con­ve­nient for­mat, this paper­back was even less so. It’s obvi­ously been a while since I’ve read a paper­back, because I found myself think­ing the for­mat was awk­ward and annoy­ing. If it had been a dif­fer­ent story, I might have even given up on it, but it made me real­ize this was likely my last such pur­chase. I might still buy a print book here and there for the pic­tures or for the tro­phy shelf, but I’m not sure what would make me buy a mass mar­ket paper­back again. (Appar­ently I’m not alone in this opin­ion.)

So I’m back to using my Kin­dle, remem­ber­ing what I loved so much about it at the begin­ning, to the point where I’ve even ordered a new third gen­er­a­tion ver­sion because I love the focused nature of a ded­i­cated ebook reader. That may change in the future, but for now I’m def­i­nitely a spe­cial­ist, enjoy­ing how the device lets me focus on read­ing with­out dis­trac­tions. (That first gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle can’t ever leave the fam­ily, because Cory Doc­torow was kind enough to sign it two years ago, so I’ll be keep­ing it for pretty much ever.)

How­ever, I’m also rec­og­niz­ing new ben­e­fits I hadn’t picked up on before. I’ve had a cou­ple of seri­ous bouts of insom­nia in my life, which I finally cured by read­ing like crazy until I fell asleep. The unfor­tu­nate side effect of this solu­tion was that I trained myself to fall asleep when read­ing books. The rhythm of the train doesn’t help either, and by the end of the week I’m so tired that I usu­ally drift off on the train ride home, regard­less of how much I enjoy the book itself.

Inter­est­ingly, though, I don’t fall asleep on the train quite as often with the Kin­dle, although it does still hap­pen. Appar­ently a book is a print book is an ebook to my brain, but elec­tronic ink seems to keep me awake a tiny bit bet­ter (but not too awake to be a prob­lem at night). I just fin­ished read­ing Hamlet’s Black­berry, and I found that I read more of it at a time because I stayed awake. I’m also read­ing faster on the Kin­dle than I was in print, which I don’t remem­ber notic­ing before. Finally, I tend to high­light more, know­ing that it will all be search­able in the end.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but I think I’ve finally crossed over to the ebook side. I’ll have to go to book­stores and the library just to touch new books for old time’s sake. Only time will tell if there’s a “fea­ture” of print books that can draw me back. My rea­sons for con­vert­ing are def­i­nitely an edge case, and I haven’t been a heavy user of print resources in libraries in quite some time, but I can’t help but won­der how this type of shift will affect libraries. I see more and more eread­ers on my com­mute every day.

September 25, 2009

The Book Was Not Driven by Reading

I hadn’t seen Jay Walker’s Library of Human Imag­i­na­tion TED talk before. It’s an inter­est­ing take on the print­ing press, the book, and read­ing, and how they’re not as con­nected as we think they’ve always been. The whole talk (short at just eight min­utes) is inter­est­ing because of the way Walker links dif­fer­ent items together.

The book was not dri­ven by read­ing. In 1455, nobody could read, so why did the print­ing press suc­ceed?… The print­ing press was dri­ven entirely by the print­ing of for­give­nesses and had noth­ing to do with reading.…”

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