28 March 2007

The Future Of Reading?

Heaven forfend. David Skinner considers the new Sony Reader book gadget.

Advertisements for the Sony Reader, a hand-held device for perusing e-books, show pretty, natural settings where fans of literature might go and read away to their brain's content. The marketers of portable technology have long suggested a kind of objective correlative between the pleasure one takes in their products and the places they are used. So marking up spreadsheets on your laptop while reclining on a tropical beach is much more like reclining on a tropical beach than it is like marking up spreadsheets.

Readers should be less susceptible than others to such hidden persuasion. First, it's not as if books themselves aren't, for the most part, already portable. And second, location is usually irrelevant to the quality of one's reading experience. The new Mitch Albom is going to be just as awful to read on the subway as in a deck chair, feet up, overlooking the crystal waters of Lake Tahoe.

So the virtues of portability are being exaggerated, but the Sony Reader has other selling points; above all, its potential to reduce the clutter of books. For me, the perfect advertisement for this device would be a picture of my bedstand without its ever-present leaning tower of literature. More reading, the tagline would say, fewer books.

The Reader, which I have been test-driving for a couple of weeks, makes clear that books are becoming less necessary to a life of reading pleasure. It also makes clear that the gadget-makers have a ways to go in fine-tuning their product. And they know it.

The Reader currently sells for $350, literature not included. At 7" by 5" it's close to the size of a smallish paperback. Slim and light, it's much easier to carry or pack than a hardback. Its screen alone earns Sony bragging rights. Unlike a computer monitor with its backlighting, uncertain depth, and poor resolution, Sony's E Ink display scans almost as well as ink on paper. It requires outside lighting just as paper text does--which means it offers nothing new to readers in bed positioned next to a sleeping body--but reading an entire novel on it presented no unusual problems. And the style of literature matters less than you might think. In separate sessions, both lasting several hours, the long, embroidered sentences of Jonathan Swift were as easy to take in as the hammer-and-nail prose of Elmore Leonard.



Anonymous Scott K said...

I can't see spending $350 dollars on something that would soon become all dog-eared with notes in the margins.

More seriously, if I read a electronic book that I like, how do I give it to someone else? I think I would also miss the tactile experience of reading a book.

03 April, 2007 06:05  

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