The P versus the E [part 2]


how do u get out/up?

More generally, the e-ink screen by the moniker of Pearl is agreeably clutter-free. Unlike the screens of handhelds or laptops it does not aspire to display every possible piece of information simultaneously nor does it have the computing power to underscore each click with an animation. Like the white cube of an art gallery, the e-book displays a Spartan focus on content. The most garish counter-example was recently provided by a Swiss online newspaper. An orange pig ran wild across the entire homepage, stopped at a detonator box and then blew up the entire page into debris of broken headlines, text fragments and image shards. After a few seconds, the page reassembled. It was like a declaration of war: online advertisers versus newspaper readers.

So thankfully, the pages of the e-book are de-kineticized. I do not want to praise deceleration for deceleration’s sake but for the welcome re-doubling of attention it permits. A cognitive style which forest-based books have always made possible.

 

From piles of books to a lonely iLiad

The user-experience of Luther Bibles sucked. There was no incense, no altar boys, and who (apart from the priesthood) knew that reading was so friggin’ hard on the eyes? – Cory Doctorow[1], Content, p. 124

Let me pursue the material details of the e-book a little further. One of the significant minutiae, at least for the Kindle, is that one can change the font size. The default is much larger than that of a standard paper book, by my own calculations in the vicinity of 100 words per page. This has an obvious yet important consequence: it is easier on the eyes, more agreeable to read.

Then there is the question of heft and weight. Which with an e-book are so minimal that it can be handheld almost regardless of one’s posture or lower arm stamina. Again, this seems like a minimal benefit that only a tech geek would get excited about but once one begins summing up all these incremental conveniences they add up to something relevant. My point is that using my e-book, to my own great surprise, has been a more pleasant, more conscious reading experience than that of a regular p-book because the material of the medium has moved a step further into the background. This difference is much more substantial than the upgrades from one iteration of iPhone to the next, which are so often hailed as «revolutions».

However, technology and material cannot be considered in exclusion from each other. The e-book, technologically considered, is a paradox step backwards-forwards. It is more sophisticated than reams of paper yet more archaic than the ubiquitous LED touch screens. I believe that this is likely to make Doctorow’s words that «you do like reading off a screen» more true than ever. I claim: People will like the sensory experience of reading e-books! The device has the smooth, hard surfaces one has become used to from other digital gadgets. Whenever I give my Kindle to friends they generally assume it has a touch screen and begin swiping at it. To no avail. Yet, and this is the kicker, the papery screen feeds into a deep, nostalgic urge for paper. The grainy texture and the ghostly traces at times left by the page before, are charming. As though the e-Book were paying subtle homage to its predecessor. While this reference might not be apparent for a younger generation of screenagers it does help the demographic who transition from piles of books to a lonely Oyo or Nook or Kindle or iLiad or Cybook Orizon or other model.

If my purpose were simply to beat the drum for e-books I would go on to list their economic benefits, especially to those of us who think once or twice before purchasing a thirty francs hardback. Ultimately, I am too much of a traditional book-lover to fly off into an amour fou with e-books. Yet my sensory, almost sensual reading experience with my e-book has convinced me that these digital tomes are more than a technological fling – they enrich the meaning and experience of our most time-honored medium, the book.

 


[1] Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is an activist, journalist, author and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the bestselling novel LITTLE BROTHER.
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About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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