Neurophilosophy

Call me old fashioned…

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but I prefer holding a book in my hands to reading from a computer screen.

We already have the technology that will enable us to carry whole libraries in our pockets. Next month, for example, Amazon will launch Kindle, an electronic book reader, and Google will begin charging users for full access to the digital books in its database. Soon, we’ll have electronic tablet devices with enough memory to store hundreds of books.

To get an idea of what it might be like to read an electronic book, take a look at the latest issue of Blogger & Podcaster magazine. Click on the image of the cover to launch the interactive digital edition. You can then flick through the virtual pages by dragging their corners or by using the navigation buttons at the top left.

It’s very cool, but for me, this technology will never quite match the experience of reading a paper book. It’s true that I have spent much of the last two years reading and writing on computers, but I’m sure I wouldn’t want to read a whole electronic book, even if it did have the musty smell of an old paperback.

Comments

  1. #1 Johan
    September 15, 2007

    Computer screens can’t match paper in resolution or contrast, yet. Once they do, the choice will be easy.

    That being said, I have read books on the screen, most recently Neil Strauss’ The Game (just the kind of book where you might want to see what all the fuss is about without having to get judged by the checkout girl at Borders as you pay for it). It works surprisingly well. I think it really is mostly a matter of habit.

    And for one thing, text search is a huge advantage when reading academic texts.

  2. #2 Ben D
    September 15, 2007

    Okay, I’ll bite. You’re old fashioned!

    Sorry.

  3. #3 BGG
    September 15, 2007

    That’s very similar to how I receive my subscription to Science. I’ve found I don’t really prefer it to paper, but it has both pros and cons.

  4. #4 Bardiac
    September 15, 2007

    Books are way more sensual than people think about, generally. They’re way easier to take notes in, pretty durable (compared to a laptop, anyway–drop a book, it’s usually okay. A little water? Dry it and it’s usually okay, with maybe some paper damage.) Computers are amazing for lots of things, but books remind us that human beings made them (especially older books), and that’s a good thing to remember.

    Also, I can easily use books that are 400 years old (so long as I’m allowed by the owner). But accessing information on an old floppy? I need help. An old yellow tape thing? Yeah, not likely.

    I’ve never stood in front of a class and been unable to open a book. I can’t say the same for computers or computer files.

  5. #5 David Sewell
    September 15, 2007

    Several people who have seen the Kindle say this is where the device’s central innovation lies — in its ability to download books and periodicals, and browse the Web, without connecting to a computer. … The device also has a keyboard, so its users can take notes when reading or navigate the Web to look something up.

    Those two features are precisely what might push me to buy my first dedicated e-book reader.

    I read a fair number of e-books already, on a 12-inch iMac. It’s not the ideal reader but I like having the Internet connection to be able to follow up references, understand allusions, etc., while reading (even fiction). I’ve never been tempted by a dedicated e-book reader w/out a minimal network-capable OS.

  6. #6 Zachary Tong
    September 15, 2007

    I’ve noticed that for scientific journals, I just can’t focus on them enough to fully grasp the content unless I can print it out. Once it is printed on paper, I can highlight and annotate to my hearts content. Maybe its just psychological, but I really can’t fully understand a paper until I’ve marked it all to hell with my comments.

  7. #7 David Harmon
    September 15, 2007

    There is also the upcoming technology of programmable paper, which may eventually yield something with the proper form-factors and capabilities. I’d want at least the following: size no larger than a trade paperback, and weight no more than twice what a similarly-sized paperback would weigh. At least parts of it should be touch-sensitive enough to simulate a touch keyboard and/or take stylus input including control gestures. The inner covers might be good for that, if it’s not feasible to make all the pages “sensitive”. In any case, the main processor should have some way to tell where the pages are turned or held open, so that it can respond appropriately.

    Pages should have a certain amount of individual controllability; for example, if you’ve got 100 pages, you should be able to specify that you want the first 25 to be “homed” to chapters marked “introductory”, the next fifty for the main text, and the last 25 for the index. Oh yeah, and page #78 is damaged.

    On the other hand, real books are intrinsically much more stable and durable than E-texts — it’s a case of something built out of solid matter, with the data encoded as macroscopic features thereof, as compared to… a wisp of data flickering through microscopic wires and switches, surrounded by a whole chain of support technologies leading to the macroscopic world.

  8. #8 DuWayne
    September 16, 2007

    I have to admit that I really like the MS reader that I currently use. I still prefer to read paper books, but when I travel, I really love the fact that I can take the three hundred some odd books that I currently have stored on the laptop with me, without a problem. Too, my five year old loves to have me read to him from the laptop. I would note that MS reader makes it really easy to highlight, take notes and click on words or phrases to do a search (which opens in fifrefox on my computer).

    Given the funds, I would buy a dedicated reader. My son would love it, and I would enjoy it too. I will never get away from hard copy books, but I can easily see them becoming an anachronism for my son.

  9. #9 cephyn
    September 17, 2007

    My biggest problem with e-readers? They need power. A plug. A battery. Something. A book never needs a battery, meaning I can read it at any time no matter where I am, for as long as I want.

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