Monday, April 29, 2019

The Print Reconversion (and the Problem of Choice Paralysis and Distraction)

I've been going through a phase lately, and I'm not sure what to make of it yet other than that I've decided to just roll with it for as long as possible. Here's the deal:

I'm back to reading more print books now than I am ebooks.

Yep, I love the tablets (I have approximately 6 of them...that still work, anyway) and hundreds of books in both the Nook and Kindle stores, plus lots more through other venues (Google Play and Aldiko most notably). They offer all the obvious conveniences that tablets do when you are a reader, including:
--Easy to read in the dark
--easy to manipulate the font type and size
--extremely portable and you can bring your entire collection anywhere with no effort*
--Most tablets give you at least 7-10 hours good reading time and the proper ereaders last even longer

I've blogged plenty about my love of tablets, ebooks and their conveniences over the years. So....why am I suddenly mostly reading print books again? And why have I spent a few hundred bucks rekindling my mostly anemic print fiction selection again?

At first it seems counter-intuitive. Hell, some of the books I've read in print recently I also had or at least started reading in ebook format. Sometimes I have tired eyes and need to drag out the reader glasses. I have to find convenient places to sit with light. What the hell, man?

I have some theories, though. Here they are in a nut shell: tablets are awesome, but they suffer from two problems that will eventually get in the way of a good time. These are choice paralysis, a problem of the human condition; and distractions, a problem with how the Google and Amazon electronic marketplace wants to sell you things and barter for your time.

The first one is a known problem that people like to wax philosophical on. It is also known that the ebook market lately has been seeing a downward trend, rather steeper than one might expect. Here's my theory: the traditional form of reader requires a structured mechanism by which one finds a book, claims the physicality of it, eventually reads said book, and then passes it on. Some time can pass before this recycling event happens, and the recycling can be where you trade it in to a used book store or give it to a friend, but the important part is that the book exists in your possession for a time and then leaves, to be replaced by a new book at a future date. It does not linger on your shelf forever (in many cases; biblioholics are a different exception here).

I've always liked being able to read and then recycle a book. I have a bad habit of reading one book and then buying ten, but hey....I can always dream of a future in which I have all the time in the world to read, right?

The problem with this notion is that when applied to the ebook ecosystem, I end up with hundreds, then eventually thousands of books. The ebook ecosystem is also designed to drive cheap sales with $1-3 books, hooking you on tons of casual "this looks cheap, I might want to read that" buys. At some point it becomes easy to have twenty or thirty books in your collection you want to read, another hundred or two you thought you'd want to read in the future, and hundreds of additional books that were so cheap or free you couldn't turn them down. (Yes, this is how biblioholics often function, pity us). Before you know it, your tablet or ereader is actually out of room....and you find yourself stricken with the curse that is a bounty of choices every time you pick up the old tablet to read a new tome.

Right now, I have a selection of print tomes I have gathered together and set myself a nice, snug little goal: I will read these ...ah, approximately 25 books over the coming Summer months. Can I pull this off?  Y'know, I feel more confident about these 25 print tomes than I do the 1,000 odd Nook books staring me in the face every time I load up.

I guess I could "load up" my ebook reading list and refuse to look past the first two pages in the Nook library, but that would require discipline...seriously.

The second problem is (in my personal experience) the greater and more insidious issue, and it really boils down to this: when you have 20 minutes to read, are you going to crack open a book and try to plow through a chapter, or are you going to open up the news feed app, or Youtube, or literally any of a hundred other apps on the tablet that can occupy 20 minutes (and more, you realize) of your time more easily and with less effort? To keep a tablet on task you pretty much need to ditch the Google Play store....and forget about the Kindle Fire, it's awesome and all but is so insidiously designed to sell you content that the book section isn't even the first tab you can choose from.

There are other reasons I've decided to make ebooks my secondary thing and go back to print. One of them has to do with screen glare: at some point I got it in to my head that staring at a bright blue-light emitting screen all the time is probably not the best way to keep my eyes healthy. Never mind that blue-light makes sleep harder (and the red-tinted alternative is unpleasant to stare at), just focusing on so much  light emitting tech is tiring. This is, of course, part of the whole current phenomenon of people trying to reduce "screen time" in their lives and I am feeling that screen-fatigue as well. Hell, I feel it right now in front of my giant PC monitor as I type this. I'll be feeling it at work for 8 hours tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, I can reduce some of that by not feeling it when I'm trying to read?

There's also a little problem with battery life/shelf life of tablets. One of my Samsung Galaxy S2s is acting a little funny these days, and it doesn't hold much battery life anymore. It is my oldest tablet right now, at about five years of age, so not unexpected.....but the idea that I might want to replace it with an equivalent device (it is a very nice tablet) at a $500+ pricepoint every few years? Nah.

The last reason is insidious but notable. Buried in this article is a compelling point: when you have a tablet in your hand you could be doing all sorts of things, and few of them are reading books. My son is growing up in a world of technology, and he is just now starting to take notice of books, actually enjoy them....but to help him with this, I need to be setting a good example. Tablets don't really let you show a book off, show that you're, you know, actually reading something other than a garbage news feed. They also can't be easily exchanged. You can't hand a good book to your friend to enjoy....even after all this time both Nook and Kindle have been woefully inadequate when it comes to book sharing.

Put another way: physical books allow you to be social in certain ways that ebooks cannot and by design will not let you. This, it turns out, has been really important to me.

Anyway....I never stopped preferring print games and comics, so returning to print fiction and nonfiction isn't really that big a step for me. It will cost me a bit more....but I also feel like I'm returning to a space where I am more likely to spend my money wisely, and not just one the daily bargain basement e-deals. Plus, I get to spend more time actually shopping, in real book stores. There's just something about browsing aisles of books that is immeasurably more satisfying to me than scrolling through random lists of what Nook thinks is relevant. So consider me "back in print!"

*When I started the tablet/ereader journey this seemed like a brilliant notion. Years later I realize I almost never actually get any reading done on most trips, except maybe on the plane; and I've been on the plane only a handful of times in the last several years.

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