The idea of compiling the world’s wealth of literature into audio or–more popularly, digital–formats sounded appealing to me a few years ago when I started becoming a more serious reader. Without ever having to worry about going to a bookstore or public library, I thought, I’d be able to knock out all my reading goals with my tablet or phone. Since I carried around those two devices a lot back in the day, my reasoning furthered itself to dreams of reading anywhere and at any time.
Fast-forward to 2019, and I’m not so convinced about my previous self’s adoration of technology.
I’m not saying I’ve shunned ebooks and audiobooks. I consumed some of my favorite novels (including The Satanic Verses and Catch-22) from my tablet, read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao this January on my phone, and a road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without Harry Potter floating out of the car’s audio system.
But in most cases, I only read electronically or through audiobooks out of necessity–it’s not like I’d ever want to read a physical book while at the wheel!
Although I have numerous problems with ebooks (and, to a lesser degree, audiobooks), I’ve compounded them into a few broad categories that I hope will give people insight on how tech and reading literature might not be the best combo:
–Distractions. My attention span is pretty awful, and while reading print books, my mind wanders off about once every other page unless I force myself to stay on track with the words in front of me. But ebooks, at least for me, are even worse. While reading on my phone earlier this year, I noticed push notifications popping up at the top of my screen, and without thinking, I’d tap on them instead of just sticking with my book.
–Blue light. Nightlights that filter out blue light are pretty common features on electronic devices these days, which is AWESOME for me because it means I can plug away at my short stories and novels at night without worrying about frying my eyes and getting no shut-eye. But for whatever reason, neither my tablet nor my phone have nightlight features, which effectively meant I’d either have to sacrifice reading past sunset or a good night’s sleep.
–Blue light, again. Then there’s the issue of just how harsh electronic light is on your eyes. I guess I can tolerate this when I’m writing on my laptop as long as I try to follow the 20-20-20 rule, but this just means that when I read, I want to do it in a format totally opposite from what I’ve been using for writing. Trying to understand the beauty of Faulkner or Joyce while at the same time worrying over eye strain doesn’t work for me.
–Lack of physical features. There are zero paper pages to an ebook or audiobook. There’s also no spine, no cover, no back cover, no physical features whatsoever, unless you’re counting the screen staring back up at you. I’ll admit there are a few advantages to this physical absence (no paper cuts, yay!), but they’re far outweighed by the disconcerting feeling I get with an ebook or audiobook that I’m not really in the author’s world, that I’m not connecting with the words before me. For me, anyway, this is less of technology’s fault and more of how I approach technology: when I see a screen, many times, the first thing I do is just scroll, scroll, scroll, and the words become glossed over in my eyes. This has pretty much never happened to me with a print book.
There is one big advantage of ebooks over print books that many in the writing community are aware of: ebooks have allowed for an explosion in self-publishing. Although I plan on shooting for a traditional publishing route, I have NOTHING whatsoever against self-publishing, and many of the writers I interact with on Twitter are taking the self-publishing path. (So please don’t unfollow me!) To this, I’ll add that if you enjoy ebooks and audibooks, don’t let this post dampen your spirit! Remember, this is all just my take on technology and reading, and you could be having a vastly different experience.