Will the e-book kill reading?

With the rapid rise in popularity of the e-book we have seen a shift in people’s reading habits. Many have celebrated the e-book as the salvation of reading in the 21st century, however, I have a few reservations.

I have written at length about the print book vs e-book argument here. I make no secret of my preference for the printed page, though I continue to make good use of the Kindle app on my iPad. I’m a reader. It’s that simple. I will read anything, anywhere, in any format.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a reader, particularly children and teenagers. It takes work to turn a child into a reader, and have them sit and engage with the written word. The Reading Rules address this issue, providing ten steps to turn a child into a reader.

E-books do have their place in the reading world, which I freely admit in Reading Rule no.7: Remember it’s the 21st Century. My concern about e-books lies in the distraction factor offered by new technologies such tablet pc’s and the Kindle Fire. Originally e-books were read on devices which were designed for that purpose only: reading. Now, e-books can be read on devices which offer access to all online services. Great if you want to look up a word, not so great if you keep checking your email and updating your Facebook status. I can attest to this because I have found myself doing both when reading on my iPad.

This point is made clear in this New York Times article Finding YourBook Interrupted…By The Tablet You Read It On. The authors describe the e-book reading experience “more like a 21st-century cacophony than a traditional solitary activity” and report readers who say that “it’s harder than ever to sit down and focus on reading”.

Herein lies the problem for those of us trying to develop readers and create a reading culture in our homes and schools. If e-books make it harder than ever to sit down and focus on reading, there will be a decline in reading. This will signal a decline in reflective thinking practices. In my post The Importance of Reading, I refer to some 2009 research carried out by American neuropsychologist Patricia M. Greenfield. She found that whilst Generation Y’s love of technology is developing impressive visual intelligence, it comes at a considerable cost, namely the ability to process information at a deep level. The ability to analyse and reflect, in short what teachers know as ‘critical literacy’, is not being developed. I believe the only way to develop reflection and critical thinking skills is through sustained reading – reading without distraction. Others refer to this as deep reading – reading which is uninterrupted, sustained and requires reflection.

Sustained reading is the casualty of the e-book. It may not be the only casualty though. The abovementioned New York Times article reports that distractions offered by modern e-book readers are a real threat to book publishers: “book buyers may switch to tablets and then discover that they just aren’t very amenable to reading”.

A large-scale decline in reading would have huge social and cultural implications in our world. Our only option is to continue to develop a strong reading habit amongst our children, and fight the distractions offered by tablet pc’s by choosing engaging, exciting and impossible-to-interrupt reading material. Note to children’s and YA authors – it’s going to be more important than ever to create works of unputdownable brilliance.



Filed under Reading matters

4 responses to “Will the e-book kill reading?

  1. sayspraveen

    e-books will not kill reading, only make reading more pervasive. However, people who started reading with books during an early stage in life would tend to read books in print rather than on a reader. This is a personal opinion, since now when i look back almost 12 yrs of reading on computer, i feel a strong desire to read books in print, i almost abhor an e-version. Not even sure whether i want to use the computer for any purpose other than work.

  2. A couple of years ago, I don’t read books for entertainment not because I don’t like reading but it’s because I don’t have books to read because books here are so expensive for a student like me. But a year ago, my uncle gave me a kindle and since then I read voraciously, reading all the good books I’ve missed in the past years. So for me, ebook is my salvation.

  3. I couldn’t agree wtih Karen more about the crucial importance of reading books in order to develop higher order thinking. See also The Shallows by UK journalist Nicholas Carr on this subject.

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