The Future of Reading

There is a thoughtful short article in the September issue of The Walrus by Jon Evans, “Apocalypse Soon”. The focus of the article is on the future of online texts, or ebooks, and ebook readers. Although the author makes a number of overgeneralizations, there is a good point about why e-books have so far only captured a small percentage of the market – 0.2% according to Evans. Evans partially explains this by reference to “contrast”, which print has an electronic text doesn’t, and goes on to praise the virtues of the Sony Reader.

We actually purchased a Sony reader at UVic, thanks to Rich McCue who managed to bring one back from the US when he was at the CALI conference; apparently, they aren’t available in Canada. I have tried it, and I can attest that Evans is right; the reader really does bridge the gap between print and electronic. What was surprising though was how few e-books were actually available, and particularly law texts.

I suppose I am really reflecting on the same issues as in previous post in August by Simon and Dominic although from a different viewpoint.

But one of the issues with text that has been on my mind are the ways in which readers use the text. As Librarians we are trained to discourage writing in the margins of books, but I was reading in a chapter of a book by Basbanes, Every Book is Reader that in fact the marginalia of many books owned by scholars and thinkers are really part of the intellectual fabric of how the reader interacts with the text. There is a whole text on this: H. J. Jackson, Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books Wikipedia has an entry for marginalia which also points out that Sony had at one time introduced a reader that allowed the creation of marginalia in text.

It seems to me one of the problems with digital text, particularly in pdf, is that you can’t do this, so that in some ways it is easy to interact and incorporate paper text into your thinking than it is the electronic.

But I am interested in what others have to say about this.


  1. I’m probably too old ever to be able to switch off paper books. I love them. Sometimes I annotate them, but for me it’s simply the feel of the page and the heft of the thing in my hand.

  2. I guess I am the new generation. I suffer from an acute paper allergy. I could die from touching, seeing and therefore, reading paper. I carry my epipene everywhere I go, just in case…

    I can and do read on the web and in Acrobat everyday, most of the day. Obviously, as is the case with paper, you need other tools to enhance your experience. I use Acrobat Writer 8.0 for all its new editing and collaborative tools. In fact, all the paper I still unfortunately receive ends in the scanner and is transeferred via email either in Tiff or Pdf to my inbox. To give that unfortunate paper a second chance, I put it back in the printer for my colleagues, who still print…

    When I read on the web, I enjoy Googlenotes and more general Windows feature like print screen, copy-paste, save as, etc.

    Younger generation are able to read easily on computers and with new tools such as flip screens, tablet PCs, etc. live reading will become more accessible and userfriendly. I think and hope, we will reduce the amount of paper we use as years pass (and happilly look at the bad shape paper companies are in… Ya! YA!). Reading on the screen is the equivalent of moving from the pen to typing pad: some still can’t type. However, trust me, these people who can’t type are not getting hired in major lawfirm (or less and less). In a couple of years, it will be the same for people who still need paper…

  3. Reading Dominic’s comment, I realize that I do my verbal creation using a keyboard rather than a pencil or pen. I think with 9 of my digits, now, at least when it comes to words (I still diagram with pencil, though I like the various mind mapping tools.)

    Though I tried Google Notebook for a while, I still wish I had a super-sophisticated application that would let me simply start writing on the desktop, or even on top of a document I’m reading online, and that would record my notes, associating them automatically with whatever document had the focus at the time of writing. (Writing “9 of my digits,” it occurs to me: we should have a key for use by the left thumb, otherwise neglected — a small portion of the spacebar, perhaps — that would trigger notetaking…)

  4. Although there are always piles of books by the bedside, after lights out, I continue reading on a Palm, generally newspaper pieces from Avantgo and magazine and academic articles in a stripped down PDF format. Once font and lighting settings are adjusted, it’s no more tiring than reading on paper. I now read the New Yorker on the Palm, and now on Podcast,20 times as often as when I could be bothered to pick it up at the newsagents.