I have long marveled at what wonderful company other authors are, and what delightful people my readers are. Every reader I’ve met or interacted with on the topic of my books has been gracious and considerate, even when they are disappointed with a story, or informing me of a boo-boo spotted in the text.
This might be because my reading demographic (the whole historical romance reading demographic) skews older, and thus developed literary habits before the advent of “smart” phones or even computers. We know these devices are eroding our capacity for memory, focus, and analytical thinking–they make us dumber in other words–now it turns out they might also be making us meaner and more forgetful because they have changed the way we read.
In multiple studies of reading habits, the findings increasingly point to screen-reading as costing us the ability to absorb complex material (such as the deliberately convoluted referendum questions we find in the polling booth). The way we read now–scrollity-scroll-scroll-scroll–is also making us less empathetic (anybody lamented the loss of civility in public discourse lately?), and delivering a hit to our recall. Turns out that holding a physical book, turning real pages, and having a physical object that we associate with a specific story (rather than a device that holds untold quantities of data) makes remembering what we’ve read and even reacting to it easier.
On a device, we skim-read, not from left to right, but down first lines, from keyword to keyword, or link to link. The damage, in terms of lack of recall, comprehension, and empathy, shows up as early as age nine or ten, just as a tween begins to face the mounting challenges of peer groups and cyber communities.
I’m reminded of the Victorian’s approach to cigarettes, viewed as a healthful way for a man to relax at the end of his hard day. A huge industry rooted in all manner of labor evils depended on convincing that guy he was entitled to smoke and that smoking was good for him, even as he developed a chronic cough, his clothes began to permanently stink, and cravings became a nuisance. He was in fact, being sold an addiction that rotted his lungs, affected the air quality of everybody around him, and gave Jim Crow wings.
I make a lot of my income selling ebooks, so this question is not idle for me. I suspect the ebook fiction reader might have a different relationship with e-reading than the fifth-grader who’s bored with history class, but I’m concerned nonetheless. I continue to prefer print reading for my recreational reading, or when I’m trying to absorb substantial material. Maybe someday, we’ll read differently for different purposes, just as we printed newspapers on lightweight, easily disposed of paper, and wrote letters on beautiful stationery.
If I had to decide between losing my e-readership, or giving up print books, the choice would be hard. I do know though, that as of this week I am putting the blog on hiatus until later this fall, because I’ve come back from travel with a yen to sink into some great reading.
What about you? Have your reading habits changed with the advent of e-reading? Does e-reading represent a step forward for you or cause you some worry? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Tessa Dare’s The Governess Game (on sale TUESDAY!!!), which will surely be among the print books I’ll gobble up this week.