It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of e-books. I love my Kindle for all sorts of predictable reasons. It’s convenient, it lets me carry lots of books around with little weight, I can preview things and so on. By now, the litany of Kindle virtues is probably familiar to much of the Internet.
However, something’s been bugging me lately, and it’s taken a while to put my finger on it. Certainly, there are some standard complaints with the Kindle that are as familiar as its praises (DRM! No Sharing! Stupid Pricing!) but I’ve made my peace with all of those, at least for the time being. No, this is something else.
The problem, so to speak, is one of convenience. My kindle goes in my bag along with my laptop or ipad, and if I forget it, I can just as easily swap to another device to pick up on my reading. The net result is that I swim in a sea of ambient books, and that seems like it should be a wonderful thing. If I have a few minutes free, I can just read whatever’s on mind, right?
That’s the theory, but the reality is that with all the devices I have, I usually have something else on hand better suited to filling 5 minutes, whether it’s a stupid game or just reading something shorter form, like a blog entry or my instapaper queue. When I was younger and could only carry a book with me, that book was the thing I would turn to. Now I carry an entire suite of things, and my options are not so narrow.
By itself, this is not so bad. I’m not going to beat myself up over reading a little bit less just because things used to be different. Unfortunately, there’s also a problem revealed by turning this on its head — just as I am surrounded by ambient books, I’m also surrounded by ambient everything else. Reading is no longer a discrete task — it’s something I can tab into and out of like an app on my desktop.
That unexpected downside of convenience hits me hard, since it means that I find less and less time to just sit down and read, because if I’m doing that, why not also check twitter? And email? And maybe a few blogs? Intellectually, I know that multitasking is a sucker’s bet, but practically, I find it creeps up on me when I’m not looking.
Is there a solution to this other than just being aware of it? I’m not sure. There’s a good argument that maybe this is the real reason to swap back to paper books from time to time, explicitly because they’re less convenient. I don’t think i could go back full time — the benefits of the Kindle are still there and still profound — but perhaps an occasional exception would help remind me of what I’m missing.