Technology marches ever onward, changing everything in its path, mostly for the better. It would be naïve to think that books would be untouched by the winds of progress. And changed they have. Every year, eBook sales rise skyward as the book industry changes before our eyes. Some of us resist this change at every step, viciously clutching our books of the dead tree variety and heaping scorn on the new fad of electronic books. Others are timidly curious about these newfangled devices, wondering what the entire buzz is about. And still others have become early adopters, diving head first into this brave new world of reading. Whatever your stance may be, eBooks are here and here to stay, so you might as well learn to live with them. A good start is to learn how they work, and how they differ from the books of old.
Electronic devices that display text are certainly not new; there have been computer displays capable of displaying text for several decades. The problem with these screens is that they are lit from the backside, with the light source shining through the display into the user’s eyes. While this setup works great for viewing videos, scanning web pages, and light reading, it tends to fatigue the eyes during longer stints of reading. Thus reading on electronic displays was not really a practical substitution for reading a traditional book.
This all changed with the development of E-ink displays. E-ink displays are not backlit; in fact, they are not lit at all. The contrast between the white or off-white background and the dark text provides a great reading experience without fatiguing the eyes. E-ink displays contain thousands of tiny spheres that are half dark colored and half light colored. These spheres are also magnetic. To display and image, electrical currents behind the spheres provide the correct charge to change each sphere to display the appropriate color for its location on the screen, light for the background, and dark for text.
Now that you know how an eBook reader’s display works, we can cover the features they provide. Besides the E-ink display, an eBook reader is essentially a hand held computer, similar to a tablet. Some of them have touch screens, headphone jacks, web browsers, and other apps. As far as reading goes, these devices have many advantages over books. EBook readers can hold thousands of books at one time, they have built in dictionaries, they allow you to change the text size, they let you add bookmarks and notes, and you can even search for words or phrases in your books using the search feature. You can also buy and download new eBooks to your reader using wireless in a matter of seconds. These readers are also very light and have excellent battery life.
Of course these readers are not all good. Old fashioned books do have several benefits over these new contenders. First of all, regular books never run out of batteries. The contrast that books provide is also better than the current electronic readers as well. Some versions of books can contain small formatting errors such as missing words or spaces, which can be distracting to some book lovers. Standard books can also be easily sold, traded, and loaned to friends, which is a big part of the social aspect of reading. There is also the entire sensory experience that books provide; the smell of the pages and binding, the texture and weight in your hand, the sound of a page turning. And many would greatly miss the experience of visiting a bookstore in search of a new novel to add to their collection; a collection that they can admire and organize and sift through.
The Last Word
It really is up to the individual reader to decide whether eBook readers are right for them. In fact, most people will likely find that they have use for both methods of reading depending on the circumstance. But there will be those who hold firm on both sides of the eBook issue. And that is Ok, as this is human nature. Just remember, the clay tablet and the scroll likely had some diehard fans as well.
Guest contributor +Brian Burtonis a children’s book enthusiast and online publisher for childrensbookstore.com who writes on the topics of reading and parenting.
Barb: 1SentenceDiary says
I was very reluctant to try an eBook, as I think of myself as a book lover. Then, my daughter received one as a birthday present (very generous grandparents!).
It was so great for her. She loves being able to enlarge the text size, which somehow makes reading easier for her even though she has perfect vision. (I have heard this from many other parents as well.)
She’s a bit of a reluctant reader, but she likes reading on the Kindle so much that even *I* had to try it. The rest, as they say, is history. We now own 4 Kindles in my family! Unless I’m reading a book borrowed from the library or a friend, I’m reading on the Kindle.
Do I miss being able to share books? Well, yes and no. Yes, I miss the ease of sharing books with my friends. But we share books within the family so much more easily now. I can read along with my kids so I can talk to them about their books “in real time”, something that was always a problem before.
I never wanted one, but now I couldn’t live without it. 🙂
Ha–Four??? That’s awesome. That is a convert.
I do miss lending real books and will sometimes buy a book that I know I want to share in print for that reason. However, I do like that amazon allows books to be lent to one other person now. My library also supports amazon lending now.
Ms. Yingling says
I find that it is physically harder to read on an e reader, at least e ARCS. Many of these will only show the text in 6 point font, and if the books have pictures, the font can be even smaller. I do like the ability to always have hundreds of books with me, but for ease of reading, paper wins every time.
I agree with this too, Ms. Yingling. The ARCs (which is almost ALL of my reading) are sometimes harder, though in the last year they’ve gotten a lot better. Most of mine are formatted better and easier to read.
I resisted eReaders at first, but now love my nook Simple Touch! It’s lightweight and very easy on the eyes. I use it mainly for eARCs and when traveling, as I don’t think I will ever give up my paper books.
My 8-year-old was reading on my Kindle recently and used the dictionary feature to look up the word “decapitated” as he was reading (a big brother did that to his sister’s plastic toy). I thought that was awesome! I know people often use the dictionary feature on there, but I hadn’t thought of a great vocab builder for kids.
It’s taken me a couple of years to get used to it, but I honestly enjoy using my ereader now probably more than a traditional book.
Brian Burton says
Thanks for the great comments everyone. I was resistant to eBooks at first as well, now I love my Nook Simple Touch. It is so light and the rubberized grip makes it easy to hold. I also like how the eBook makers are making it easier to share eBooks with your friends and family.
Some of the downsides that I did not mention is that you cannot just flip through an eBook to find a certain page easily and that page numbers become meaningless when you can change the font and border size.
Yes–when I’m looking for a passage in a nonfiction book or when I’m writing a review — it’s MUCH harder to come across it if I didn’t mark it in my Kindle with an e-bookmark.
I’m still resisting :-)I love having a real book in my hands!
But, a positive aspect of e-readers for schools is that it is helping with literacy. Many kids who cannot read at their grade level stop reading because they are embarrassed, and therefore, never improve their skills.
But, if classrooms have e-readers, then a kid can practice reading without the embarrassment because the other kids cannot see what book they are reading.