Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I have seen it, and I'm unimpressed

This weekend, I spent some time at my sister's house, having her six year old son show me how he uses their iPad, as my parents looked on, only slightly more confused than me. We all figured out the basics and within no time, were scanning up and down and flipping through applications, but at the end of it, I had no problem leaving this new toy behind. Two points come to the surface after this experience.

First, I should quote my father here: "You can see why books are in trouble," he pointed out as my nephew "made cupcakes" with an app. "Reading doesn't have the immediate gratification that these apps do, and they're not as involved with it." He makes a good point. How do you go from picking up an iPad and engaging with it - you pick the ingredients, you "pet" the cat and make him purr - to picking up a printed book and sitting quietly, reading it? But my mother countered that everyone said the same thing about televisions, or with calculators that were going to make us unable to do math (um... oops!). And the fact is that my nephew is reading, and is interested in reading, even with the iPad. I should also note, however, that he knew how to ask to download an app and knew when we weren't allowed because it wasn't free - dexterous in the marketplace already.

Second, my sister had downloaded some Dr. Seuss books that her son has read, though she has also caught him getting the iPad to read to him, which she doesn't allow. Of course, he figured out how to do it before she even knew it was a possibility. My sister is a big reader, though, reading the kinds of books one doesn't feel the need to keep - your Nora Roberts et al. But clearly she is not at the stage that she wants to sit around with a screen and read. This isn't anything to do with her love of physical books, as she was ready to go "e" by the the start of the summer. She would go into Borders and buy 3 for 2, and then suddenly have tons of books that she had read sitting around in her house, not cool enough to put on display but not cheap enough to recycle or sell. But now here we are, three months after she was given this thing, and she has not yet purchased a single e-book for herself. I was surprised to hear that. I kind of thought of her as the main demographic right now.

I have become accustomed to reading the occasional article on my blackberry, and obviously I consume quite a bit of media online, on my laptop. But I still want to commit to things longer, and in fact, I have spent a few evenings now at the kitchen table longer than intended, reading more of the Boston Globe, or the local papers like the Boston Courant, Bay Windows, or the South End News, my micro-local, and I have read some really important news in these papers (albeit with typos, incorrect jumps, etc). It's similar to getting sucked into a book, fiction or non-fiction. It's more than just that flash that passes by and ends up being forgettable - like much of the news we all pass to each other, or worse, the Youtube clips. It's important to me because I have something in common with the other readers. We have a common interest, and the editors know that, and edit with us all in mind. That's a community feeling that I appreciate, and I don't need to see those other readers - online, in comments sections - to feel it.

I want to end by saying, like so many, that I was saddened to see the news of Carla Cohen's passing. Cohen seemed to be quite a tough broad who co-founded Politics & Prose, a vitally important independent bookstore in Washington, DC, in 1984. We here at SotB join many others in the publishing world in recognizing this loss.


(how great is this photo of the co-founders, Cohen (left) and Barbara Meade?! Taken by Darrel Ellis, The Washington Post, in 1989.)

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