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...And it will scare the horses

I haven't been much for posting lately, mostly due to busy-ness (work, my novel, my new writing class). But I have been reading on line. And I've noticed a trend lately of dissing e-books in comparison to paper books.

I guess it's the inevitable backlash new technology always brings. In this case, the primary argument I've seen is the Rupert-Giles-esque claim that the visceral experience of holding a book, touching it, smelling it, turning pages, etc, provides a sensory context that allows for greater comprehension and retention of what one reads than with eBooks.

This may be so, I can't say without seeing the scientific evidence. But here's what I know:

(1) For a long time after I got my PhD, I wasn't much interesting in reading recreationally. "Reading burnout" was my excuse for a long time, until I realized it'd been years since I graduated. Then I had to face up to the fact that I just wasn't reading as much anymore. I felt guilty about that. Unintellectual.

My recreational reading has increased dramatically since I started reading eBooks. It's just more convenient. You can take all your books with you anywhere, and have a book on hand to read in the doctor's waiting room, or at work (while looking busy staring intently at the computer screen).

(2) I like being able to "un-highlight." Does this ever happen to anyone else: you're reading, you find a passage you want to remember, you highlight it, and on the next page, the author says the same thing even better, or in more detail, and you highlight that, too? Pretty soon, you're over-highlighted. It's good to be able to just have the parts you really want to return to marked. This goes for bookmarks, too (especially in recipe books).

And who knows? Maybe more precise highlighting leads to greater comprehension and retention.

(3) Reading paper books has become physically challenging for me. With a book-book, you usually are holding it in your lap, or on your knees, or on a table, and looking down. For extended periods of time. This hurts my neck something fierce. Or alternatively, you have to hold the book at or above your line of sight. Ditto, strain on the arms. I have looked into inventions that will hold a book up in your line of sight for you that don't hold the pages so tight you can't change them every minute or so, but such inventions don't work as well as devices that hold computers and tablets up in your line of sight.

I believe the physical ability to read a paper book is something that should be fought for with physical therapy and gumption. But in the meantime, my difficulties is what they is.

Sometimes, I don't have a choice but to read a paper book. Not everything is available in eBook format (like my current class textbook!) And certainly, I worry if I will still "have" my eBooks twenty years from now the way I have my old books from my younger years. What happens when the technology changes, as it will?

Today, though, I'm reading.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2015 08:23 pm (UTC)
I don't think there's anything remotely recent about this particular trend. I've been seeing people lamenting the idea of electronic books and declaring them "not real books" since they existed only in the realm of science fiction.

Personally, I love and am sticking with my paper books, for all kinds of reasons some of which are entirely idiosyncratic to me, but I cannot for the life of me understand why so many of my fellow dead tree lovers feel the need to disparage other people's reading preferences or deny the obvious fact that e-books do have a lot of advantages, especially for people who have problems reading print books for one reason or another.

But then, I'm sure when books were invented, people were upset about them becoming more popular than scrolls, and when scrolls were invented people complained they just didn't have the solidity of clay tablets.
Feb. 23rd, 2015 08:40 pm (UTC)
Hence my wondering if this is just a "It'll scare the horses," epiphenomenon of human nature that will run its course.

I've recently had to buy eBook version of paperbacks I already own and that Amazon *knows* I already own. Out of necessity. I think I should get an owner's discount.


Edited at 2015-02-23 08:41 pm (UTC)
Feb. 23rd, 2015 08:46 pm (UTC)
I remember hearing that there are some publishers that have actually set up programs that will give you a discounted on e-versions of books you already own, but I think they're really limited. Maybe we'll see more of that kind of thing in the future, though, because it does seem entirely unfair to have to pay full price twice.
Feb. 23rd, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC)
You'd probably have to buy both versions from the same retailer to get the discount, but I can live with that part.

My reading habits have been hit-or-miss enough that there will not be a big overlap in buying eBooks of books I already own, but I have done it 5 or 6 times now.

Let's see... Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Kim Stanley Robinson, Martha Alderson...

Maybe more than 5 or 6 times.

The paper versions are now shelf trophies.

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Feb. 24th, 2015 04:01 pm (UTC)
Indeed. What little $ I make on my first novel is via eBook sales, not paper. The paper version is too expensive (granted, I need to write my next novel with less words!)
Feb. 23rd, 2015 10:53 pm (UTC)
Highlighting: I bought a used textbook when I took astronomy as a sophomore in college. It was in decent shape, but it had been extensively highlighted and underlined by at least two previous owners. The person who did the underlining in pen seemed to know what they were doing. The one who did the highlighting had not the faintest idea of what was important, highlighting things at random, some important, some totally trivial, coloring much of the book in highlighter pink. I'd used a highlighter as a freshman, but seeing the mess in that book cured me. It's a good book. I still have it in a convenient place in my library, but I wish I could undo *all* the highlighting in it.
Feb. 23rd, 2015 11:03 pm (UTC)
Hard to sell a used book, also, when you have it highlighted and notationed up.

I bought an eBook on Amazon that I read through in a day, decided was too simplistic for my needs, and returned for a refund. Two steps to remove all my highlights and bookmarks, and presto.
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Feb. 24th, 2015 02:21 am (UTC)
I have checked out eBooks from the library. I have found I don't like having to "lose access" to them when I'm done, though. [/still a book hoarder]
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Feb. 24th, 2015 03:46 am (UTC)
your library doesn't let you renew ebooks so you can keep them longer than 2 weeks?
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Feb. 24th, 2015 04:02 pm (UTC)
Not necessarily cheaper. I have had to rebuy several books I have in print versions as eBooks due to above issues, and they cost the same. I was very disgruntled.
Feb. 24th, 2015 01:41 am (UTC)
I think your point are all very valid. I do also wonder what happens when the technology changes (as it invariably will). Will we be able to read out older e-books? It's a very interesting thought.
Feb. 24th, 2015 02:24 am (UTC)
I feel the same way about the TV shows/movies I am buying through streaming services. Like, actual purchases on Google Play. A woman posted recently about buying a streaming movie for her kid, something the kid liked watching over and over, and for a day or two they cut off access to it.

She was kind of enraged. This is *her* movie. She bought it. What rights does that give her to watch it at will?
Feb. 24th, 2015 05:34 am (UTC)
The scientific evidence is rolling in on the fact that ebooks do not promote the same ability to keep information in the head. The brain doesn't process it the same which was surprising. (a lot of this is showing up in primary literature for neuroscience) I have found that very true of the ones I've read. I read them all summer because I couldn't hold a book and I can remember exactly nothing. I read over 20 books, can't even remember the titles.

There are advantages to the ereader of course.
Feb. 24th, 2015 12:29 pm (UTC)
Are they controlling for the kind of person reading the book? Some of us just have better attention/comprehension spans than others.
Feb. 24th, 2015 05:46 pm (UTC)
yes they are
Feb. 24th, 2015 11:35 pm (UTC)
Well, it would be interesting to see how they define and quantify the broad range of contextual elements of paper books (text quality, page color, smell, book size, hardback/paperback, number of lines per page, font size, etc etc) and control or vary those parameters relative to eBooks
Feb. 25th, 2015 04:08 am (UTC)
They've even been using PET Scans and the same areas of the brain aren't lighting up. That was a shock so now there's a huge concern over the push in academia to get rid of paper books and go totally ebook. Hell my students can't remember as it is.

They're also seeing changes in neural linking with things like twitter. The short messages are actually looking to be bad for the brain
Feb. 25th, 2015 04:09 pm (UTC)
The brain is a very plastic organ. The reasons behind the brain's reaction can be a learned, trained thing from early childhood.

The one thing I think they can't control for is accustomization. How accustomed are you to learning through a particular medium? Are any of their subjects more accustomed to learning through eBook format? Probably not, because we all learned to read, and learned to learn, in paper book format. Perhaps kids in my neice and nephews' generation might be able to say differently, but not the rest of us.

We may learn better with paper books, because contextually, we are more accustomed to them.

I think research like this takes time, ironing out the complex variables that go into cognition, learning, and context.
Feb. 26th, 2015 03:39 am (UTC)
That is very possible. It will be interesting because we're seeing HUGE slides in student performance and how much of it is how they're being taught and how much is actual brain changes. It's looking like both
Feb. 26th, 2015 06:40 am (UTC)
The brain is a very plastic organ.

And a very suggestible one. Even if it's in one's subconscious, the suggestion that e-books are somehow inferior to "real" books could cause a way in which the brain processed the information it takes in from them.

I think another factor may be one that no one is really looking at, which is the difference in tactile quality of the e-reader itself. Deliberately manufactured to be very light and thin (an advantage in your own situation, as you note), the brain may possibly pay less attention to the content because the physical feeling seems "wrong".

shadowkat noted in a comment above that vinyl LP records have been making a certain comeback. While many audiophiles state that the sound from them is better (objectively, it isn't), my own contention is that the physicality of both the medium and the playback machinery is what the brain really likes. That is, the brain is conditioned to like having its body touching things. And note that as the less "touchy" music media and hardware became, the less emotionally involved many people became with the music being played -- cassette, to CD, to MP3 players, to digital downloads. Music that once grabbed one's attention is now often audio wallpaper-- the sonic equivalent of being looked at but not really seen.

Edited at 2015-02-26 06:42 am (UTC)
Feb. 25th, 2015 03:46 am (UTC)
I like ebooks because my hands are small and it's hard for me to handle a lot of books because they're too big for my hands. I may want to read Game of Thrones, but I'd rather not have to lug it around, ya know?
Feb. 25th, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC)
A lot of my knee-gimp in my right leg comes from backpacks full of books. For YEARS.

Unfortunately, textbooks are notoriously not available in eBook format yet, so they still cause knee gimps and wallet gimps for students.
Feb. 26th, 2015 01:29 am (UTC)
I love ebooks - mostly because one cannot country hop with 850+ books.
The issue I have is many of them are not properly edited before being made available online. The number of grammar and spelling mistakes I've come across is embarrassing. Amazon needs to put a QC department together.
Feb. 26th, 2015 02:35 am (UTC)
the danger of self publishing. I doubt even amazon has enough money to pay the editors for all the self published books they have on their website.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )