Thursday, January 5, 2012

How the Kindle killed my reading plan

Every new year I set a goal for myself regarding how many books I want to read in the following year. 2011's goal was the first I failed to meet and I blame my new Kindle for that. Yes, you heard me right. I only read 42 of my target 52 books (one a week) and I hold my Kindle responsible.

You see, I was at 42 books partway through November when something momentous occurred. I got a Kindle for my birthday. And just like that, my reading screeched to a halt. More specifically, my reading productivity ended.

All technology is created to solve a problem (or at least that which the manufacturers and advertisers can convince you is a problem). In the case of the Kindle, it was created to make the transportation and navigation of large quantities of books easier. I'm sure there are more reasons, but those were the two most appealing to me. The thought that I could carry one device with me and have at my disposal my entire book collection was too much to resist. Now, as John Dyer pointed out in From the Garden to the City (One of CIC's Top 10 of '11), "Sometimes, the effects of a medium are more important than any of the content transmitted through that medium...the transformative effect of a technology is so powerful that it often overshadows what we say or do with that medium."

To put it another way, the Kindle was designed to make reading easier, but (in my case) it made three other things easier as well:

Book hoarding - With the Kindle, I felt like a teenage girl with her dad's credit card (please, don't read too much into that). What I mean is, due to the fact that there is so much free or dirt cheap content out there for eReaders, there is a smaller financial restraint to keep your book collection in check. So I probably spent more time hunting for and downloading eBooks after my birthday than I did reading them.

Book surfing - Much like channel surfing on the TV, the Kindle makes it easier to browse your collection. This is because, even as you hold and read one book in your hands, you are at the same moment holding every other book in your collection. While this is sometimes good, I found that at other times it made it much easier to drift away from one book to another. Which brings me to my last negative effect.

Book infidelity - I am by no means a "read one until you're done" kind of guy. I always have at least five books going at any given moment. But the Kindle requires even less investment into any given book. When you read a print book, you must "give yourself" to it as you bend covers and pages, underline, and make notes. The Kindle makes it easier to juggle reading ridiculous numbers of books at one time without giving yourself to any one book. The Kindle also removes any sort of anticipation and delayed gratification as you wait for a printed book to arrive.

So what's the real problem? The problem, of course, is me. The problem is my self-control, or lack thereof. And this is true with humanity and virtually every advance in technology. Each new technological advance (in my case, the Kindle) makes all sorts of things easier, and while some of those are good (book reading), others are bad (book hoarding and surfing). There are a few things I'd like to see the publishing industry do in the wake of the eBook revolution that I think would help, but that is another post. If I may close with one more quote from John Dyer's From the Garden to the City, "When we are aware of the tendencies and values inherent in our technology, we have the best chance of avoiding the negative trade-offs it brings and instead using the technology to serve God".

What about you? If you have an eReader, have you noticed these (or other) negative effects? Have you noticed more positive effects (e.g. my wife says she could barely finish a book before she got a tablet)? If you don't have an eReader yet, is your resistance motivated by such concerns?


Anonymous said...

I read 53 books in 2012 and only three of them were on my Kindle app on my Driod. I prefer books in hand every time but I cannot pass up a good book for $4 or less in the eBook format. I want to purchase a Kindle so I can read the cheap books I get much easier but since I am so much a book in hand kind of guy I don't think I will read on it more than the real thing.....but who knows.

Great comments.

I posted some of my reflections on a year of reading on my blog. Check them out -

David said...

I have had my Kindle for a year now and I agree that these are problems. It requires more discipline to overcome these than when we were dealing with only physical books. The other problem is the temptation to read only books for the Kindle. I have to remind myself that there are books I need to read that are only available as a physical book.

Mike Barlotta said...

Jared - have had my Kindle for around 6 months. I do think it is great - relatively easy reading (on the eyes), light, lots of books, easy to search.

However I too suffer from all the things you listed in the OP. I certainly find myself "cleaning up my device and organizing my collections" and drift from book to book more than ever.

Since many bloggers suggest books which I usually go check out on Amazon I also clutter my device with samples of these all the time.


David A. Carlson said...

I love my new nook and find it very helpful. I love having access at all times.

I also like using daily bible reading programs now for the same reason

I often have bits of time on my job. My nook lets me actually catch up on things

Perhaps you should of bought a nook? ;)

Sarah Abigail Kuriakos said...

I have no desire for a tablet of any kind, though if I ever did get one it would probably be an iPad. I love being able to hold a real book in my hands far too much to ever want an e-reader.

Phil16 said...

Allen Krauss: I have been on ebook sites to see what is available. Based on the wide selection of the books and the fact that an observer across the room knows not the title or content of my book, I cannot allow myself this option. My life path has been filled with experiences that make an undisciplined use of a kindle or my computer, a step backwards in my spiritual life and testimony. A paper and ink book is to me right now a part of my circumspect lifestyle. Incidentally, paper and ink is still my employment. Spiritually, it is a public display of what I am reading. In my workplace, I was described as the short old guy who reads books. My head is still battling public reading of scripture from a droid or kindle in church. BTW I have two filters running on my computer right now. Does a wet book last longer than a wet kindle?