Can’t book-lovers all just get along?
You would think that ten years after the advent of the Kindle, we would have reached a sort of detente by now—and yet I still run across anti-ebook articles every time I turn around. The latest culprit is Lifehacker’s Patrick Lucas Austin, with a post warning readers that before they drop their hard-earned $249 on the new Kindle Oasis, they might want to consider that “Study after study show that reading on screens is, for various reasons, inferior to reading on paper.”
It’s odd to see such a luddite turn from Lifehacker, which is usually devoted to showing how various new bits of technology can make people’s lives easier. This piece rehashes several of the old “smell of books” arguments: that paper books are more memorable, that taking notes on paper works better than making digital notes, and that glowy screens keep you up at night.
Even if I assume these points are accurate (the retention argument actually isn’t as clear as Austin suggests), it’s hard to see what they have to do with the way most people use their Kindles. Austin seems to assume that the only people who are going to drop $249 on an e-reader are college students who think it will help them study, whereas I suspect that far more Kindle purchasers are interested in reading for enjoyment. And to those people, such anti-Kindle arguments simply don’t apply.
I’m not all that concerned about retention of a fiction book I’m reading for fun. Indeed, I’ll probably enjoy it more on a reread if I did retain less and can encounter all the good parts fresh all over again. And I’m not generally one for taking notes on my Kindle, either. Why would I bother laboriously tapping something in with the Kindle’s one-letter-at-a-time keyboard? (Now, if Amazon were to implement a swiping keyboard like Swype or Swiftkey, that might make note-taking on Kindle more useful.)
And when it comes to the point about “light-emitting ereaders” keeping people awake at night, the article really is all wet. The anti-night-reading pieces Austin links talk about tablets, which use backlit LCD screens. However, the Kindle Oasis and other Kindle e-readers use front-lighting, which reflects light off the e-ink screen—just as you would do if you used a reading lamp on a paper book. So, this is a great argument against reading from a tablet or smartphone at night, but actually one that favors reading from an e-ink Kindle.
And, of course, Kindles have all sorts of benefits that Austin doesn’t even touch on, such as the ability to make text larger (or, with the Oasis and new firmware for older Kindles, bolder) to compensate for failing eyesight, or to carry around hundreds of books at once. Why focus on Kindles’ drawbacks while ignoring all their advantages?
Which brings me back to my original point: can’t we all just get along? I don’t know of very many Kindle owners who cut paper books entirely out of their lives. Just because you prefer Kindles doesn’t mean you can’t also read a lot of paper, or vice versa. Why is it necessary for book-lovers to try to tear the Kindle down? I’d think that anyone who wants to see books flourish ought to be happy that people are still reading at all, regardless of how they do it.