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E-book readers versus print: Part 2

Part 1 addressed the writer’s opinions and convictions about e-book readers from an individual and societal standpoint. Part 2 addresses assistive technology, academic studies, consumer ratings, and space-saving capabilities. Test drives using an iPad and Kobo for digital reading are covered, too.

Printing3 Walk of Ideas Berlin

Modern Book Printing, Berliner Walk of Ideas. The sculpture commemorates Johannes Gutenberg. Source: Lienhard Schulz via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, we bought a laptop and, since then, I slithered down the slippery slope even further. Read a couple of PDF books…gasp! This solved the static iMac problem and was much more enjoyable because of mobility. A crook in my neck, though, because of a lower screen. To make it more ergonomic, I’d need a taller laptop rack and more reading breaks. All in all, a more pleasant experience than reading PDF books from my iMac.

Despite my convictions and complaints, I was curious about the e-reading experience, so borrowed a kobo from our library. Evidently, they can be a useful form of assistive technology. Seven hundred page textbooks are as light as a the device you are using. I can’t brush this off; it’s a major plus. I have neck and shoulder problems and am supposed to always use a book rack because of it. Heavy books are a nightmare. Are e-readers the answer?

This business about textbooks led me to some interesting facts and figures about using them for academic study.  Alex Thayer, conducted a study of Kindle DX e-readers at the University of Washington in 2011. A doctoral student in Human Centered Design and Engineering, he was first author for a joint study carried out by seven universities. “There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing,” Thayer said. Study results showed that e-readers aren’t effective for academic reading. The main problem is a type of  spatial awareness called cognitive mapping. When a student uses a printed book, they rely on visual and spatial cues to remember their place, flipping back and forth between pages. With e-readers, students couldn’t remember where they found information. One scrolls, but can’t keep place, especially if there are no page numbers. Though e-readers allow for annotation, 75% of the students took paper notes. There is much more to it than this, but Thayer determined that electronic tablets were effective for study, since they had more features found on computers. Cues aren’t missed, notes can be written and searches made. He said e-book readers are fine if you’re reading something light.

Despite the results of the study, e-textbooks are big business. They are expected to total 25% of textbook sales for the higher education market by 2015, according to a  study by Xplana. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It’s true that technology could have made huge strides since the U of W study was done, but is e-reader design truly that much more advanced? In 2011, Thayer said, “It remains to be seen how to design one.” My jaded mind says people want to make a buck, even if it sabotages students.

Editions of Frankenstein

Editions of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” displayed at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, as part of Giorgio Sadotti’s artwork THIS THIS MONSTER THIS THINGS. By Andy Mabbett via Wikimedia.

One of the biggest changes in e-reader technology is called E Ink (electrophoretic or electronic ink) and E Paper (electronic paper display technology), developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. “The E Paper display is made with E Ink, which is basically black and white particles inside small microcapsules,” states E Ink on its YouTube site. What is the benefit of using E Ink? According to the company website, “Products made with E Ink electronic paper displays possess attributes that enable new advancements in the mobile electronics market: A paper-like high contrast and appearance, Ultra-low power consumption, and A thin, feather-light form.” Associated Press reporter Whitson Gordon, on the NBC site, explained it this way… “Because tablet screens are backlit and emit blue light, they cause greater eye fatigue than e-ink, which isn’t backlit and is designed to look like a piece of paper rather than a screen.” However, despite what is said, “research says ‘no’— e-ink isn’t inherently better for your eyes” and that experts aren’t all on the same page about E Ink.

But what do consumers say and what do they like? Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight received Consumer Reports‘ highest rating, at 83/100. That rating is based on the following criteria: “readability, versatility, responsiveness, page turn, navigation, file support, claimed battery life, viewable display size and touch screen.”

Jan van Eyck 059

“Madonna des Kanonikus Georg van der Paele,” Jan van Eyck. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The library’s kobo holds 75 books, all classics. After charging it on my computer, it was learn and practice time. The settings indicated the lighting couldn’t be altered, though, many newer e-readers have adjustable settings. Too bad. I wanted to read from it in bed and the screen was too dark. In the morning, it was loads of fun scrolling through Edward Lear’s limericks, but I did miss the illustrations. I’ll check out a Sony e-reader to give it a test run later….

My first impressions? The kobo was novel, but printed books are preferable. Still, for convenience, an e-reader is a good option. Only light reading, perhaps. An e-book reader would lighten luggage on a trip, a big plus. I’d like to try one with an adjustable light for night reading. The screen was annoying because it was still a screen, a mini-monitor and I spend too much time in front of a screen already.

The older librarians at my library seemed a little frosty about e-readers, which is understandable. Still, I am impressed with the number of holdings on BC’s Library 2 Go system and have noted that there are many such systems in North America. If it boosts reading and literacy, I’m for it. If it introduces new readers to the wonders of the written word, even better. There’s evidence that suggests e-readers could be perfect in rural settings if people have access to them. Click here and here to read about areas where they’re in use.

Personally, I’m probably considered a hard sell. I love Book Arts, have made hand sewn books, bought marbled paper, used bone folders, and won awards for it. I want to stay in that vein. There are other issues, too. Right now I’m reading Richard Mabey‘s The Nature Cure. I couldn’t find it locally, so I’m reading a copy originally used in the Dorset County Library in the UK. It’s a book about nature, environmental issues and how Mabey climbed out of a deep clinical depression by connecting with nature. It’s an astounding book and his writing style is poetic. It’s much more than a good read. Yet, the idea of reading this volume on an e-reader would be an impossible choice to me. It is the opposite of what the book is about and everything Mabey cares about…algae on chalk outcrops, kites wheeling in the sky, the waters of East Anglia.

My grandfather liked gadgets and loved trying out every new thing. He would have been amazed at what is available these days and I can’t help but think that he would have tried all of these forms of communication as soon as they hit the market. I don’t know why I am different but I am. Are there specially designed readers for purists? Yes. They’re called books.

Pariser Büchermarkt (Bouquinistes), Fritz Westendorp, 1911, oil on canvas. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Pariser Büchermarkt (Bouquinistes), Fritz Westendorp, 1911, oil on canvas. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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