Books: The coming thing

Cover imageOn January 2nd Mark Zuckerberg announced to the world – or at least to all Facebook members which is much the same thing these days – that he was starting a book club. In his invitation he said ‘Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today.’ Hardly a revelation to those of us who spend much of our lives with our head in one but at least it got the word out there. It followed on the heels of the Guardian’s report that young people prefer paper to ebooks, one of the reasons being that they like to share books with their friends. That’s one of my reasons, too, but I’d like to think  they find the experience of removing themselves from the electronic world and diving into a good old-fashioned book to be an enjoyable one. Tired old cliché it may be but you really can lose yourself in a book and it’s better for your brain, too. Several years ago I read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows which examines the neurological effects of the internet. When we wander around the web clicking on this and that, never quite finishing a page before heading off to something which might be more exciting we’re busy rewiring our brains. We crave more and more distraction – concentration becomes elusive. It all seemed horribly familiar at the time so I resolved to cut back my internet use, struggling to resist those insistent urges to check my email, and it worked. Elena at Books and Reviews wrote an excellent post on this recently. That’s why the news that sixteen to twenty-four-year-olds prefer old technology for reading is so cheering, although the sharing reason is the more heart-warming.

Something tells me that Mr Zuckerberg won’t be schlepping down to his local indie bookshop to indulge in a bit of old technology. As for me, I’m still wedded to paper and even more so since discovering the link between ebooks and insomnia, at least when read on iPads. Apparently, they emit light which interferes with melatonin production resulting in tossing, turning and tetchiness in the morning. There’s quite enough of that in this insomniac household already.

18 thoughts on “Books: The coming thing”

  1. I’ve been worrying more and more about this ‘butterfly mind’ in myself and others. I don’t know if there was a genetic predisposition to it, but it’s certainly not getting any better with all of these clicks and reads. I do like being informed, but I realise I am not concentrating profoundly enough on anything I’m doing. So, awareness is the first step and, like you, I’m attempting to change some habits. Work in progress, though…

    1. I’ve lapsed somewhat in my efforts, Marina, and will have to redouble them. It’s particularly tricky when having conversations with people on Twitter, I find. So many tempting blogs out there, too! Let’s hope we can both calm our restless minds a little.

  2. I’m torn here because I think you’re talking about two different things: jumping around the internet following links is one and I’m terrible for it, although I’ve started to cut back on time spent online – limiting Twitter visits; only responding to emails at set times of the day.

    The second thing is reading electronically. Reading on an iPad or a Kindle Fire (devices that omit blue light) are not the same as reading on a bog standard Kindle, Nook, Sony ereaders. I never thought I’d have an ereader, I was dead set against them, until I started wondering how convenient one might be (I used to take a book with me everywhere regardless of whether it was a hardback or paperback) and my husband bought me one as a surprise. The biggest surprise was how much I loved it. Yes, it doesn’t have pages to turn and so it doesn’t smell of vanilla, and the percentage read/time left function is annoying (and I can’t seem to turn it off on mine) and I wish people wouldn’t allow the ‘27% done with X’ auto tweets BUT I can buy books without them taking up even more space in the house; I can read easily anywhere; I’m not getting back ache from carting a big book around; I find I don’t really need pages to turn – and it’s harder to sneak a look at the ending and spoil it for yourself!

    I think the thing that most books vs ereader pieces miss is that ereaders that aren’t internet browsers too aren’t like computers. They’re not like books made of paper either, of course not, but I find it as easy, if not sometimes easier to immerse myself in a book on Kindle and I say that as someone who’s used one regularly for 2 1/2 years.

    1. Ah, a convert! I’m not anti-ereader per se – I’m looking forward reaching the middle way where it’s not one or the other but a mixture of both whenever it’s appropriate for the individual reader. My point here is specifically about readers that emit blue light. Given that there seems to be an epidemic of insomnia in the nation and many of us like to read in bed it seemed one worth making!

      1. Yes, a convert, although more the middle way, as you say – I read both physical and ebooks – I usually have one of each on the go, although occasionally, if I’m loving a physical book’s story so much, I’ll still take it out with me rather than (or sometimes as well as – nothing worse than running out of reading material) the Kindle.

        Yes, fair point. And I do see red every time there’s any mention of ereaders linked to anything negative these days! It’s time the industry embraced them – they’ll end up like the music industry after digital downloads appeared and then wonder why they’re in the pits.

        One last thought – having suffered from periods of chronic insomnia and been given/read all the advice about sleep, I always wonder how many of these people reading on screens that omit blue light also have a television in their bedroom…

        1. There may be some truth in that. No laptops, phones, TVs etc. etc. in our bedroom, that’s for sure. And the first task in a hotel is to track down the TV off switch. I hope you’re sleeping well at the moment. Insomnia is a miserable thing.

  3. Really interesting post, I’ve got terrible problems with concentration & sleep due to illness but this makes me wonder if my online habits are making it worse… Will definitely peruse the links!

    1. I have a certain amount of that too, Poppy, and at first blamed my increasing lack of concentration it on that but The Shallows was an eye-opener.

  4. The whole internet /social media thing can become obsessive and I m quite sure it does have an effect on our minds ….making us less reflective and more impatient . When it comes to e-readers I am with Naomi I’m afraid . They are really useful , esp when travelling , and they are here to stay . A couple of years ago Foykes started doing kindle bundles where for a couple of pounds more you could get the HB book AND the d/l. Most useful when it came to books like The Goldfinch and The Luminaries ….far too big to cart about on crowded commuter trains !

    1. I was amazed at the difference a more disciplined approach made to my concentration, Helen. It made me concerned at the effect on young brains.

      I’m not a Luddite re e-readers and if I was still commuting I’d use one more often but as a regular insomniac I would be choosing with care should I be in the market for a new one.

  5. Interesting post and comments too. I don’t use an e-reader mostly because my first Kindle’s page turn button was hard to use with my particular version of RSA, though I can see the advantages, especially in terms of portability. As I’m not commuting every day I can afford to select the more lightweight (physically, not in terms of literary merit) novels from my TBR pile for longer journeys. I have one of 174 pages for a train to London tomorrow!

  6. I adore my Kindle Fire and I don’t know if it’s supposed to be one of the bad ones, but it doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect on my sleeping. But concentration is another question entirely. I have the laptop on all day and am constantly checking e-mails, blog comments etc – it drives me crazy, but it’s like an addiction. In fact, the only time I totally concentrate on one thing is reading in bed, with the laptop safely switched off. So I’m delighted to hear that younger people are maybe learning to resist the temptations of online life, at least some of the time.

    1. Pleased to hear that you’re not suffering the dreaded insomnia affliction! I think addiction is the right word. It’s very hard to resist being well night constantly online with portable devices at our fingertips so it’s a pleasure to find that young people are finding books so attractive.

  7. This is an interesting article, particularly the research going on into the kind of reading that takes place on an ereader. The trending belief is that people don’t concentrate so well and don’t take the book in as deeply:

    I do love paper and nothing will beat it for me. I can perfectly understand people who commute a lot, or need larger font size on their print being really happy to have an ereader. And if I’m tempted at all it’s all because of Elizabeth von Arnem, who is hard to get hold of in print, but available in her glorious entirety for a few pounds on ebook. But so far, I’ve resisted.

    Oh and I heard that flitting about of concentration described as ‘constant partial stupidity’ which is certainly what it feels like to me (note to self: must limit email checking!!).

    1. Brilliant phrase! I must remind myself of that next time I reach for my tablet when I feel I really *must* check Twitter. Thanks for the link.

  8. I still love to read the physical book but also like the kindle and have the type without the backlight for the very reasons you speak of and I certainly don’t suffer from insomnia, in fact the opposite, its why I’m such a slow reader as I only read at night and the book puts me to sleep!

    Distraction is a big distraction and I love how much gets done when I don’t tune in till much later, but equally there is something kind of nurturing being in the company of the online community. I certainly prefer that to watching the television for hours or shopping or many other alternative entertainment pursuits. Checks and balances are good.

    1. Balance is the key, isn’t it. And I couldn’t agree with you more about shopping – I’d far prefer to be chatting with Twittermates than schlepping around the shops.

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