But at times are you in the mood for something smaller? Could a five- or six-inch cell phone screen even be superior for slow reading, when you want to get all you can out of a book? With fewer words on the screen, will you pay more attention to each? Might some readers even prefer 3.5-inch screens?
In fact, a journalist named Clive Thompson made some good arguments in Book Riot for slow reading on cell phones for people with the discipline to pull it off. He read War and Peace on his iPhone. Thompson even used the iPhone’s voice recognition capabilities to help take copious notes. His “12,322 words of highlights and marginalia” went into an 84-page paperback he printed for himself on an Espresso machine at a local bookstore. In the article, Thompson also noted that the limited number of words per page in some 18th century books as well as in paperbacks. Not to mention the compactness of hand-held cuniforms.
So here’s a question for you. Are you yourself using a smartphone for slow reading or other kinds, perhaps in part because you can almost always carry your phone with you? And what do you think of Thompson’s belief that if you really love a novel, you’ll lose yourself in the story and not worry so much about the presentation?
Here at TeleRead, Editor Chris Meadows and I can recall reading ebooks years ago on personal digital assistants—aka PDAs—with tiny screens. Later we both experimented with cheapie cell phones. We still do our share of cell phone reading even if it happens on Nexus 6s, which have six-inch screens. I find that Moon+ Reader Pro app on my Nexus phone is especially good because of the wide selection of fonts and the ability to scroll vertically, something missing, alas, from most ereading apps. Sentence by sentence, not just page by page, I can control my reading speed to suit the material in front of me. What’s more, I can use Moon’s powerful search function to dig up past mentions of characters in novels, then scoot back to where I was in the book earlier.
In the end, I don’t think that one screen size size suits all readers or even the same reader at all times–my own preference vary by the book and my mood. But I will say this. I agree with Baron that discipline can especially help if the screen is small. That might mean, for example, putting your phone into the airplane mode to eliminate distractions such as email and social media.
I believe this discipline can be taught. This could happen not just in school but also in libraries through means such as cell phone book clubs one (of many kinds of activities that a national digital library endowment could promote).
Simply put, we need a massive initiative to acquaint teachers and librarians with the right way to read ebooks in a disciplined way—regardless of the screen size—so they can encourage patrons and students to do the same. The benefits could be substantial. Manufacturers sold 1.4 billion smartphones globally in 2014, according to Gartner. eMarketer researchers last year estimated the number of U.S. smartphone users at 190 million—most Americans, in other words. “By 2019, the smartphone audience will reach 236.8 million, or 85.5% of internet users and 71.4% of total consumers in the country.”
Smartphone reading should not be the only way to enjoy books (and, yes, paper is still among the options). But, especially in the wake of the slowdown of sales of dedicated ereaders, literacy advocates must not overlook its possibilities.
The boldface issue: I’m continuing my campaign for Amazon to offer a boldface option for people reading off Kindles, Fires and Kindle apps. I was pleased to see Clive Thompson complain that even his high-resolution Kindle Paperwhite is “squinty” and lacks “the stark contrast of dark ink on paper.” I hope he’ll follow through with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to ask why Amazon adamantly refuses to offer boldface, which would increase perceived contrast. Kobo even lets readers adjust the boldness level.