The iPad Will Kill Reading
The iPad is emphatically not a serious readers’ device: the only people who would genuinely consider it a Kindle killer are those for whom the idea of reading for pleasure died years ago; if it was ever alive. The people who will spout bullshit like “I read on screen all day” when what they really mean is “I read the first three paragraphs of the New York Times article I saw linked on Twitter before retweeting it; and then I repeat that process for the next eight hours while pretending to work.” That’s reading in the way that rubbing against women on the subway is sex.
And yet, and yet. There’s no doubt that the iPad is a beautiful device for almost everything else. It’s perfect for reading newspapers – Alan Alan Rusbridger’s space-filling fanfic not withstanding – and it’s perfect for email and web browsing and movies and games. If you have to carry around one device – for your commute to work, for an hour in a coffee shop, or on a long-haul flight – then the iPad is the one to carry. Which is precisely why I’m so worried for the future of books, and for reading.
For a few months, the Kindle – or the Sony Reader, or whatever e-reader floated your (Three Men In A) boat – was the perfect take-anywhere device. Sales of ebooks soared as first early adopters, then everyone else, left their paper books at home and started carrying around something smaller and lighter that still gave them access to their reading material.
Those same people are now the ones who will buy iPads, or presumably any one of the myriad alternatives that will soon be flooding the market. But those people don’t want to carry around two tablet-shaped devices to help pass their commute, so they’ll make the sensible choice and leave their Kindles at home. Sure, the Kindle is unarguably the better reader device, but what many booklovers (myself included) have arrogantly overlooked is that it’s not competing on a level playing field with other e-readers. It’s competing against the whole universe of portable entertainment. “This ebook hurts my eyes – I’ll just surf the web instead.”
Even for those who love books enough to persevere with reading without e-ink will soon face another problem with the awesomeness of the iPad. The device does so many different things so well that there’s a constant urge when you’re using one to do something else. Two or three pages into a book, you’re already wondering whether you’ve got new mail, or whether anyone has atted you on Twitter. One of the joys of reading is to be able to shut yourself away from distractions and lose yourself in a book. When the book itself is packed with distractions, the whole experience is compromised.