(Library, diorama made and photographed by Lori Nix, 2007, from her series ‘The City’; from her website)
While I do not own an e-reader and don’t see myself purchasing one in the near future, I am not an adherent to the ‘Apocalypse rides on the coat-tails of e-books’ school of philosophy any more than I believe that anyone who persists in buying paperbacks is naught but a puppet to the dark forces of ‘legacy’ publishing and a Luddite impeding the free flow of great literature. I am bored with all the heated quarrels pitting paper against electronics and the wild predictions, and I have given up reading most articles with anything about e-books in the title. However, I have recently come across two pieces I found interesting on this very subject.
One, from the BBC, describes a reading revolution which is occurring in Africa. Hitherto, poor infrastructure has made distribution of books very difficult (and that is just one of the many headaches publishers in Africa have faced). In many areas away from larger towns and cities, readers and also aspiring writers have been left stranded, unable to access books. But in the wake of the astounding adoption of mobile phones across the whole continent over the past decade, smartphones are becoming increasingly popular. With them has opened up the possibility of downloading and reading books – any books! Books written in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Britain, France, the US; books translated from the Chinese, Latvian and Finnish. Books full of stories, ideas, challenges. Until global poverty has been properly addressed, millions of Africans will not have the means to afford a smartphone nor the access to electricity with which to charge it, but for many of the better-off this is hugely exciting and full of implications for the future.
The other article, in the Guardian, concerned some research which suggested that readers of a text on Kindles recalled less of the plot than readers of the same text on paper. The research only involved 50 readers, and of the Kindle readers only two were ‘experienced’ Kindle readers, so I think it needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but in conjunction with another small study of Norwegian students, also referenced in the article, it starts to raise questions about the limitations of electronic devices for certain sorts of reading. What do you think? Have any of you had experiences which fit with this? I used to copy-edit and proofread and I must say I didn’t work as well on-screen as on paper – but then I assumed that was because I was a dullard. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t...