Reading styles: the sequel

February 8, 2011

Bill Proudfit asked an open question today to my earlier post on reading styles; What possible difference, he asks, can it make if you read from paper or from a Kindle or from any other device? I had said that I would never Kindle for serious reading and its a statement I intend to stick by. Now its not that I want to be a luddite, I am seriously thinking of moving a part of my science fiction collection over to a Kindle. A lot of that is good light weight fantasy and I read it, mostly once and the Kindle will more that good enough for that. For the more serious stuff, Stephen Donaldson’s latest for example, I have found of recent years that I buy these in hardback, as reading in that context requires at least for me the tactile sensation. There are also practical issues, I read a lot during take off and landing, when the Kindle users switch off! However I agree that is a personal style issue. Reference books also seem ideal for a Kindle and I have colleagues who swear by them. So those are all areas where I agree with Bill in the main.

However where I will disagree with Bill is when it comes to my philosophy, psychology, anthropology, congitive science etc. etc. collection. Here the books have had written notes in the margins, words are underlined or marked, I use symbols that mean something to me. This is not the same as typing or marking. The book is also a physical object. When I pick it up a year later it falls open at different pages, I can skim my notes by slipping through he pages, something that I cannot do with electronic search. Just as Doctors pay more attention when they write than they do when they type, so on reading or searching I pay more attention when I have the ambiguity of writing and drawing on paper. I can’t stack multiple Kindles with post it notes on the shelf above my desk and scan the material. Kindle users are sequential, book users work in parallel.

Bill also wonders about how we get younger people reading and reflecting, well I’m not sure that the transience of electronic media is the same as curling up in a chair with a good book. Also I’m not sure we should indulge children in habits that are purely electronic, they are loosing things in the process. Slide rule users are better at spotting error that those with calculators, because they learnt at a key age to gain a sense of rightness and wrongness. Our job is not to indulge bad habits in children, but to create good ones.

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