Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How the Kindle killed my reading plan (redux)

About a year ago I wrote a post reflecting on how the Kindle had changed my reading habits in just a matter of months. I thought I would write a follow-up article with a whole year under my Kindle belt now, but first I thought it couldn't hurt to repost the original piece that stirred up a lot of chatter (and even a phone call from a writer from the Washington Post, though it went no farther than that).

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?

1 comment:

MikeB said...

I think I most identify with this -- "spending more time hunting for and downloading eBooks than reading them"

but I do love my Kindle and access to lots of good books