Yeah, I am now one of those guys. I finally broke down and got an iPad. As a simple explanation: I needed something portable on which to consume and to write, but I dreaded the thought of a laptop. I wanted to buy something I could get excited about using, that wasn’t a pain to setup, that didn’t take several steps to do several things. More than anything, though, I saw potential for the iPad to help me to read more.

And indeed, the iPad has renewed my love for reading (it’s been a long time since I had such a thing, truthfully) and I’m not sure what to think of that. I told my wife that I think it’s cause there’s less of a commitment to withdraw from everything else, which is what holding an actual book in your hand actually is. In other words, I know that anything else I might want to do (tweet, facebook, web, games, etc) are only a click (or swipe or whatever) away when I’m holding an iPad, but when I’m holding a book, I’ve made a choice to neglect those things. It’s probably a positive choice, but it’s one that’s increasingly hard for me to make.

This probably says something very bad about my own way of thinking, but I figure it’s okay to be pretty pragmatic about this sort of thing. In this case, I figure whatever works, works.

It’s an interesting question, though, isn’t it? Is it okay to take technological shortcuts to the kind of fulfillment we’d get from just reading a book? Or am I missing out on the same type of fulfillment altogether?


  1. Hey Rich,

    Book lover (preferer?) though I am personally, I don’t have a particular problem with iPad being an easier reading form for you. I find that even things as simple as the length of chapters has a significant impact on how and when I read certain books, so your idea of liking other things to be available while reading seems mostly fine.

    I think the larger issue is content, because a book (especially an old one) is inherently a carefully thought-out communication from a very different time and place, whereas most tweets and facebook messages and e-mails and even news articles are very current and generally more shallow than books.

    So if the medium helps, great… just don’t overconsume the current and shallow at the expense of the old and deep!

  2. Yeah, and that’s precisely what I’m going for with the iPad. Buying older and deeper things off of Kindle and iBooks that I would otherwise not read, and mixing them in with the more current so as to make them almost indecipherable.

  3. I’m totally down with the idea of using a device to stoke a desire to become a reader. The point of reading is content (what’s written) rather than the immediate context (place of reading and method of content delivery)—though of course, context will affect the way you apprehend the content.

    Still, please don’t confuse older for deeper. Just as some authors from the past put bucketloads of thought into the works they penned, so too do some authors whose works developed in the last fifteen years devote significant concentration to their writerly practice. And just as many contemporary authors are writing careless, ill-conceived works, so too did many in the past.

    My advice: whether old or new, find books that are worth your time and then devote the time to them that they deserve. You’re certain to find yourself rewarded.

  4. No argument from me, I certainly wasn’t saying older=deeper. I’m merely saying that older material which has survived till now has usually done so either because it rings especially true or because it is especially helpful in expanding our view and understanding of the world. Because of that, it’s good to make sure we don’t fill all our consumption time with things that are both new and shallow.

    Of course new and deep is a possibility as well, as is old and shallow. There’s no category or genre in which we DON’T have to excercise discernment. But I do worry that among those for whom a greater and greater amount of time is devoted to keeping up to date with the most recent tweet or news bit, the old and deep is what gets pushed out first, without those people recognizing the high cost that carries.

  5. Agreed. An alert mind and questioning spirit are essential for enjoying and getting the most out of all reading (perhaps especially so with the deep stuff). And someone for whom reading wholly consists of blowing through tweets, status updates, and forum discussions is someone who is (perhaps unconsciously) retarding their ability to wrestle with sustained thought.

    Three cheers for books and the wonderful things they do to the thirsty mind.

  6. I was just thinking about The Shallows when I saw this discussion. Rich, this would be a perfect time to read it, and Neil Postman’s Technopoly.

    Reading a book is a conscious decision to shut out other things; they’re distractions. When you read a book you commit to involving yourself in the writer’s ideas. If you’re thinking about tweeting, you’re probably not doing that.

    It’s not really anything wrong with your thinking, it’s just the way technology changes things.

    I have an experiment for you to try: see how long it takes you to read 100 pages on an iPad, then how long it takes to read 100 pages of a book, and compare how much you remember from each. You’ll have to make sure they’re similar difficulty and word count and all that, but I think it’d be worth trying…I’d like to know, anyway.

Comments are now closed for this article.