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 kindle.amazon.com, 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.
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.