How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

Books as objects of desire: photographs by Jennifer Cownie.

Excerpt from this article:

Here are some things that you can’t do with a Kindle. You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine (brutal, but sometimes pleasurable) or flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. You often can’t remember much at all. You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end equals 93% followed by 7% of index and/or questions for book clubs. You can’t pass it on to a friend or post it through your neighbour’s door…

Another thing that has happened is that books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty. They are coveted in their own right, while ebooks, which are not things of beauty, have become more expensive; a new digital fiction release is often only a pound or two cheaper than a hardback. “Part of the positive pressure that digital has exerted on the industry is that publishers have rediscovered their love of the physical,”

Facebook is wrong, text is deathless

Illustration by Anna Parini

Excerpt from this article:

In five years time Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa… But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

Maybe this is coming from deep within the literacy bubble, but:

Text is surprisingly resilient. It’s cheap, it’s flexible, it’s discreet. Human brains process it absurdly well considering there’s nothing really built-in for it. Plenty of people can deal with text better than they can spoken language, whether as a matter of preference or necessity. And it’s endlessly computable — you can search it, code it. You can use text to make it do other things.

…Because nothing has proved as invincible as writing and literacy. Because text is just so malleable. Because it fits into any container we put it in. Because our world is supersaturated in it, indoors and out. Because we have so much invested in it. Because nothing we have ever made has ever rewarded our universal investment in it more. Unless our civilization fundamentally collapses, we will never give up writing and reading.

See also this related article, Why Handwriting is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age:

There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.

And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

In an article this year in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study, told me that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

 

On the Declining eBook Reading Experience

eBooks

Excerpt from this article (thought this was a good one, as a big advocate of real books):

When reports came out last month about declining ebook sales, many reasons were offered up, from higher pricing to the resurgence of bookstores to more efficient distribution of paper books to increased competition from TV’s continued renaissance, Facebook, Snapchat, and an embarrassment of #longread riches. What I didn’t hear a whole lot about was how the experience of reading ebooks and paper books compared, particularly in regard to the Kindle’s frustrating reading experience not living up to its promise. What if people are reading fewer ebooks because the user experience of ebook reading isn’t great?

Luckily, Craig Mod has stepped into this gap with a piece asking why digital books have stopped evolving. As Mod notes, paper books still beat out digital ones in many ways and the industry (i.e. Amazon) hasn’t made much progress in addressing them.

In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print

Excerpt from this article:

After the will reading, my older sister sweetly offered to share my mother’s library. I gratefully accepted. And then a few weeks later, while my younger sister was going through our mother’s personal belongings, she came across something she thought I might like.

I stared at the message and thought about the irony of the endless debates I had with my mother. Now that she was gone, all I cared about were her physical books.

Yes, as a technology columnist, I have become acutely aware of technology’s built-in expiration date. Kindles, iPhones and those new smartwatches are designed to become outdated, and quickly. Technology is about the future, not the past.

When I got rid of my CDs for an iPod, I never looked back. As VHS tapes turned to DVDs and later streaming services, I didn’t think twice about the lost physical objects — rather, I rejoiced in their disappearance.

But books, I now understand, are entirely different.

Why It’s Almost Impossible to Find a Postcard in China

Excerpt from this article (I still love sending and receiving postcards, but is this a dying art in the digital age?):

Kunshan is just west of Shanghai, in the heart of modernizing China. But finding a postcard, finding a stamp, getting that stamp to stick, finding a place to mail the postcard — even just getting anyone on this state-of-the-art campus to accept the idea of putting a letter in the mail — have proved a challenge, and not just because of my wobbly Chinese. In my travels to the tourist traps around Kunshan, I have seen exactly one Chinese person writing a postcard.

…For many Americans, sending a postcard from an exotic locale is still a mainstay of modern travel, if only to prove you actually went somewhere. It’s short and sweet, no heavy messaging required, the Twitter of a block-print age. And who doesn’t enjoy finding a handwritten missive among the supermarket fliers and other invasive species that swarm our mailboxes?

…The relative rarity of the handwritten postcard here is symptomatic of a pell-mell rush toward a digital and depersonalized future. It seems sad to see the broad strokes of Chinese culture and communication shrunk to a 3-by-5-inch screen, and delicate brush lettering now reduced to pecking with two thumbs.

Americans like to imagine that we are the most tech-savvy, if not tech-addled country on the planet. But we have nothing on China. Which means if you visit the Middle Kingdom, plan on sending a selfie from in front of Mao’s tomb to prove you were here. But forget about mailing Mom a postcard.