Gadgets Versus Books

Josie Leavitt -- March 29th, 2013

I have been traveling this week. Blissfully, I’ve escaped the late spring chill of Vermont and headed to Key West, Florida. I packed two books with me, both galleys. One was the new David Sedaris and another isĀ Open Mic, an anthology of young adult stories edited by Mitali Perkins.

I’m almost done with the Sedaris book and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Laughing out loud is not something that happens often during long layovers in the Philadelphia airport, but laugh I did. As I was laughing I looked around. I was the only person reading an actual/physical book. This kind of amazed me. Where were the books? Surely, I was not the only person with a book? But I searched high and low and nary a book was to be seen.

Everywhere I looked people had their heads in their phones, their iPads and their computers, but no one had a book. Not even the littlest reader had a book. This little four-year-old had a learning device that he deftly used to keep himself amused while waiting to board his flight. Parents of toddlers had the kids huddled up close to look at the small screen while they read out loud. This was disturbing to me. Where were the books?

I know books are hard to pack and all, but really, what happened since the last time I traveled and people had books? I live in Vermont and folks eschew ereaders, so I’m clearly behind the times here. Everyone was reading on a wired device. Blissfully, though, I saw no Kindles, but rather Apple products and phones. So, at least I could maintain the illusion that people weren’t beholden to Amazon for their vacation reading. I happily, almost defiantly, read my book during take-off and landing just to irritate all the people who had power down their devices. I didn’t have to leave my book just because the plane was moving and was happy for this. But as a bookstore owner I was shocked at the dearth of books. The airport bookstores, if you can call them that, since they were sadly lacking books, had clearly switched to catering to the traveling e-readers.

I clung to my book during the flight and all during my trip. I sat on the beach and overheard people complain about how hard it was to read in the sun or lament that they had just run out of power. I gleefully turned real pages and read to my heart’s content. I know the times are changing, but I would rather tote around a heavier bag than read on a screen while at the beach.

And, if you drop a book in the pool, as I did, it gets soggy, but isn’t ruined. The same can’t be said for an e-reader.

11 thoughts on “Gadgets Versus Books

  1. Emily

    I am a librarian at a public library and I own an eReader (Nook). I would estimate that I do 5% of my reading on the eReader and 95% in physical book form. However, when I travel, that’s when that ereader 5% really comes into play. I LOVE my eReader for travel. Simply put, I must have a book with me. And to make sure I don’t run out of book, I used to have to travel with two or three, or maybe one really long title that I just started. That can be heavy and take up room in my luggage, especially in a time when one tries to pack as lightly as possible to avoid baggage fees. The eReader lets me take many books with me and carry something that weighs less than the average hardback. So in the airport, I am indeed one of the gadget readers you see, but that does not mean I have given up on physical books.

  2. Carole Kitchel Bellew

    Books have disappeared; when my husband and I were visiting the Yale library in New Haven last fall, we did not see a single sole reading an actual book. They are my world, my livelihood and I truly believe they are not gone. I think like Mr J that they are only going to get better. Finally folks who appreciate the quality of a good book, production values as well as content, will be willing to pay what they are worth as they already are willing to pay for any other product that is well made.
    Another downside worth mentioning about these electronic devises for kids is the noise factor. On a car ride while visiting my granddaughters, ages 2, 4 and 6, I had to put up with noise coming from 2 Leap Frogs and one IPad. My son was tuned into sports on the radio and my daughter- in-law was updating her Facebook page. I love them all dearly but we seem to have forgotten the value of silence or enjoyable conversation.

  3. RYCJ

    Personally, as both an avid reader and writer (author), I find that there is a difference between both virtual and physical reading. While I agree with the pros, and cons for both, what I’ve since found really interesting is how (story for story), particularly for novel-length books, the stories actually do read differently. I’ve tried this on many stories, and found a remarkable difference depending on whether I was reading on screen, or paper. Something like the difference between attending a live concert, versus watching one on a 3×5 screen.

    That aside; what’s always been a little comical to me is folks going on vacation, or traveling with so many books! When I go on vacation I like to get out and have fun. I mean reading is enjoyable; I read all the time… during lunchbreaks, rainy days at home and so forth, but while on vacation I’m looking for jet skiing, and sunbathing, and basically partying. I doubt if i’d get to read half a sentence during an entire 2-week vacation, which I’d chase down on the plane plugging in some music!

  4. Patricia

    “The medium is the message” still holds true. I think the fact is that people like playing with gadgets and clicking on buttons. How many “e-books” can you consume in any given trip anyhow? We now have droves of people walking down the street with their eyes glued downwards to their devices, as if they’ve been drugged. The hordes have willingly accepted the invitation to stop being present in the moment, to be oblivious to everything but a little screen they carry around a few inches across. Already all this nonsense will be in Google glasses. I vote for people with these devices to stay home since wherever they are, they’re more interested in the phone or device anyhow.

  5. Sue

    Becky, I don’t think she sounds smug, she may be alarmed or sad. I have to say I’m surprised you work in publishing and wouldn’t see the differences of a device and a book. Of huge corporations (Amazon) vs independent bookstores and even Barnes and Noble. It’s also not smug as a parent or someone my age, I guess, to be concerned with a proliferation of electronic devices.
    I’ll go out on a limb and say, based on my using a Kobo in recent months, it is not the same. Great for traveling, “convenient”, sure but the same? No. Never will be.
    Sue Roegge

  6. Francine Lucidon

    On disembarking from a flight recently, I greeted the smiling pilot and attendants to thank them for a pleasant trip. I did, however, feel compelled to add ” … Oh but when you instruct people at landing to “turn off your Kindles” I hope you’ll consider changing that to E-readers.” The pilot and flight attendants grinned stiffly. Yes I am THAT passenger, and quite glad I didn’t have to turn anything off, including my opinion.

  7. Mr J

    Have to agree with Becky insofar as I have hundreds of short reads on my iPhone (mostly silver-age sci-fi) and , frankly, do I really want to weigh down my life with the physical thing? Certainly not.

    I had a major cull of physical stuff for my last house move, when some 3.5 tons of books (yes, I had a lot!) went to various garage sales and charity shops.

    And I don’t miss them. In fact, many of the survivors are going too, over the next few weeks. I view this as reducing numbers, but improving quality.

    So far as future book purchases go, I think my aim will be in searching for beautifully-bound and crafted works, which have a beauty and physicality over and above their actual content.

    Words and pictures you can look at on anything – an objet d’art is a different matter altogether.

  8. Becky

    E-book or paper book, they’re all “the real thing”. We’re all reading the same story (so to speak), just using a different medium. I’m a life-long reader; I’ve worked in bookstores and currently work in publishing, and I’m still a “book person”, even though I currently prefer reading on a nook. There is a tone to this blog entry that I find overly smug, as if reading on a digital device were somehow less valuable than reading a paper book. I understand the whole idea of reading the “real thing”, I really do, but shouldn’t the fact that people are reading mean more than what they’re reading from?

    1. S.J.Robbins

      I agree with you that reading is reading, wherever and however you do it, BUT a print book never runs out of power; it won’t break if you drop it; you can keep on reading while the plane is taxiing, taking off, and landing; and the more sunlight the easier it is to read, not harder. OTOH, it’s a lot easier to bring 5 or 10 or even 20 books with you when traveling, and I’m convinced that a stack of books in your checked suitcase causes it to be opened and looked through by security — who knows what that solid block of “what?” looks like to an x-ray machine?

    2. Naomi

      AMEN! Reading is reading, no matter the medium. I myself have found that between my Kindle and an audiobook app on my phone, I’m engaging in books more than ever. As for the remarks about Amazon vs. Apple, I’d say that I get most of my Kindle books from the library (just like my print ones!) and my wallet appreciates the lack of Apple products in my life.

  9. Nina

    I love books. There are floor to ceiling shelves in every room of my apartment and stacks on every flat surface. But…. when I travel it’s the Kindle for me unless I am in the middle of or need to read something that is not available for Kindle. The hardest part of traveling for me used to be which books to take and then carrying them all. Now, when I’m on the road I read from my Kindle at home, it’s the real thing.

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