Friday, 21 March 2014

Books that Kindle disloyalty

I’m a great fan of reading books electronically. 

Not that I thought I ever would be. I remember long arguments with one of my sons, in which I maintained that nothing would ever replace the facility a physical book, with real paper pages, gives you to flick through it looking for a passage that struck you or which you just want to re-read. 

Well, I was wrong. 

Noble. Majestic. But the user interface leaves a little to desire
It’s just amazing to be able to go on holiday with dozens of books, but without a case that wrenches your arm from your shoulder or makes you liable for excess baggage charges. Indeed, you can stick the whole collection in your hand baggage. You can even carry it in a (reasonably capacious) coat pocket. 

Nor is the experience anything like reading on a computer. On the contrary, today’s electronic book screens manage to create an experience not just spookily similar to that of a printed page, but rather superior to it, at least in clarity of typeface and ease of reading.

Still, there are drawbacks. There are areas where the printed page retains its advantage. One of them, as it happens, comes when travelling. The airlines still don’t let you use your electronic equipment during take-off and landing in. 

Amazing. Are they really saying that we still use navigation systems so vulnerable that a £130 Kindle can flummox them? Are they telling me that terrorists could bring down planes by just having a bunch of them simultaneously phone home from on board?

Cabin crew persist in rigidly enforcing the prohibition of electronic devices
. I don’t mind not reading if I’m leaving, or arriving at, a place I don’t know well. In all other circumstances, familiarity has bred contempt, and I want distraction from the instant I’ve sat down to the moment I stand up again. That means I need at least one physical book.

The other advantage of print is that there are simply certain books that have never made it to Kindle or its competitors. And some of those books, whatever the radical modernists may think, are rather good. You want to read them? You have to settle for paper, whose day, it seems, is not quite gone after all.

But sadly I’m beginning to feel disappointed with its limitations. I who was always such a strenuous champion of the joys of riffling through its pages, now frequently catch myself looking for the search function in a printed book, when I want to find a particular passage. It leaves me deflated when I remember there isn’t one. Flicking through the pages is fine, unless you actually have no idea where the passage was.

The sad thing is that I’m finding myself increasingly prone to this kind of electronically-distorted thinking. The other day, studying a map in a London Underground train, I realised I was looking for the cursor that would show me just where on the line I was. And once more had a sensation of disappointment that there wasn’t one.

London Tube Ads: on the way to extinction?
It may be that I was thrown by the fact that even the adverts that line the walls alongside Tube escalators are turning digital now. My grandfather used to print the paper version in years gone by, and he did his work with loving, artistic care, let me tell you. 

These days we increasingly get movies instead of posters, the displays carefully timed so that you don’t miss any of the unfolding action as you move past successive screens. It's like TV adverts even when you're away from your TV. 

The effect is to leave me wondering why, if they can do that, we can’t have a “you are here now” on the Tube maps in the cars.

Frightening. I who strove so long for tradition have been infected by the digital fixation of our time.

It leaves me guiltily uneasy at my own disloyalty.


Anonymous said...

I like the idea (it) of e-books, but in practice I prefer the papered one. I think flicking through is important. I was reading a free (it) e-book online, and ended up by ordering one costing £15.


David Beeson said...

On-line reading I find practically impossible – painful, uncomfortable, just difficult. But a Kindle or an iPad - the experience is extraordinary...