Books have had a hearty history and have withstood many distractions throughout time. Early in the 19th century, newspapers threatened to make books obsolete as the latest and greatest news hit the headlines. Later, Thomas Edison’s phonograph caused many to fear that readers would become listeners. TV and movies, likewise, competed for our time in providing information and entertainment. Books, however, have remained steadfast in the culture…but for how long?
Looking around us, we see that books themselves still have a prominent place in society. But the way they are being read is changing at breathtaking speed. The convenience and glamour of Internet, e-books and electronic gadgets is not only luring the younger generation into their web, my peers are heavily trapped as well. Google has become our go-to for all information. We can carry thousands of books on our Kindles accessible to us at any time. But aren’t e-books just like regular books in digital form? Well…no.
Chapter 6 of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr quotes Steven Johnson:
"The book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write, and sell books in profound ways. I fear that one of the great joys of book reading - the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author's ideas - will be compromised. We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little bit here, a little bit there." (pg. 103)
Carr relates an article written by Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. Writing about her experience of reading Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens on her Kindle, she says:
"Although mildly disorienting at first, I quickly adjusted to the Kindle's screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons. Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer. Distractions abounded. I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, 'Mugby Junction.' Twenty minutes later I still hadn't returned to my reading of Nickleby on the Kindle." (pg. 103)
Her experience is common. Distractions of hyperlinks, behind the scenes extras, videos and social interactions take us far from the text itself to create a dynamic “enhanced” experience.
But isn’t this a good thing? If the medium is enhanced, won’t we learn more? Won’t our brains be enhanced as well? Good questions…that we’ll answer next time.