Are Tablets Any Good for Serious Reading?
What’s the Big Idea?
With the launch of the new iPad imminent and amid ongoing speculation about the gradual replacement of laptops and desktops with tablet-like devices, there’s a quiet but definite moaning sound in the background from book lovers who feel that their quiet subculture is about to be further overshadowed by things that buzz, shout, and bleep.
Putting aside, for the moment, the endless debate between boosters of technological progress (“Change is good and inevitable!”) on the one hand, and Luddite technophobes (“We’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater!”) on the other, the question some are asking is whether the experience of reading a book on a tablet – with its access to email, IM, and other forms of multimedia multitasking – is substantially different from that of reading a physical book, or reading one on a dedicated e-reader, like the most basic version of the Kindle.
The answer, at least according to this New York Times article, is yes, definitely. In this non-scientific, anecdotal survey, tablet readers report a much more distracted experience than they remember from the good ‘ol printed book. They tend to abandon more books halfway through than they used to, too. One interviewee thinks this is a good thing – she says being forced to compete with YouTube raises the bar for authors in terms of writing captivating prose.
This is nonsense, of course. As David Foster Wallace has explained much more lucidly than I can ever hope to, great books both seduce and challenge the reader, appealing to the part of our mind that wants to engage in worthy intellectual labor for the sake of personal growth, as opposed to the part that just wants to eat potato chips and veg out. Wallace’s own work is a great example of the balance between these two imperatives: to seduce and to challenge – but reading Infinite Jest (a profound pleasure) requires a sustained effort of will and attention that might very well lose out in competition with Angry Birds.
David Foster Wallace on “challenging” books
What’s the Significance?
In our dizzying rush to acquire and acclimate to new technologies and software, which are being thrown at us by developers faster than many of us can figure out how to use them, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these things are tools for our use (when useful), not challenges that we’re supposed to live up to. And that, like all tools, they’re good for some things and not so good for others.
If you like the smell of books and the fact that your library shelves are a living record of your personal journey through literature, then, by god, fill your home with shelving! If you find that you’re losing the thread of a supposedly great new book because people are pinging you every five minutes on facebook, then maybe it’s time to set some boundaries – to carve out some “reading time” and turn off the tablet.
Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness leader, teaches meditation at Big Think Edge.
- Try meditation for the first time with this guided lesson or, if you already practice, enjoy being guided by a world-renowned meditation expert.
- Sharon Salzberg teaches mindfulness meditation for Big Think Edge.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.
- Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
- The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
- European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.
- Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
- To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
- They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.