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A Book, Interrupted

Heads up, everyone. The NYTimes has discovered the shocking news that people reading on tablets tend to get distracted by other activities.

Can you concentrate on Flaubert when Facebook is only a swipe away, or give your true devotion to Mr. Darcy while Twitter beckons?

People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.

You can expect to see a bunch of articles about this in the coming week as the blogosphere demonstrates once again its herd mentality.

Normally I’d have given an ebook story in the NYTimes a mention in my morning coffee post, but this one is so offbase that it deserved a rebuttal.

Do you know the one very important detail that the NYTimes left out? This is an old story. This is the same problem people have had since the iPad came out, and for all tablets before it. This same problem has actually been around since the first smartphone. Maybe not quite that long, but it predates the iPhone, at least.

No, wait. I’d say that this situation predates smartphones. I can say, from personal experience, that in the late 90s I used to regularly switch from a computer game to a TV show to a (paper) book. That’s over 12 years ago (I didn’t know I was a trendsetter), and I’d also bet I’m not the first, either.

Do you know the interesting part? Some of us like it this way. This is a feature, not a distraction. I rarely have time during the day to devote long periods to reading a book, so being able to switch quickly from one activity to another is useful. And then there’s the fact that I can switch between multiple ebookstores or even between ebooks and enhanced ebooks.

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Mark March 5, 2012 um 6:49 pm

Agreed, 100%. What am I, a freaking child who can’t concentrate when I need to? Patently insulting story, frankly.

And by the way, I kind of like being able to read my Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google ebooks on one device.

Mike Cane March 5, 2012 um 7:05 pm

>>>as the blogosphere demonstrates once again its herd mentality.

And especially the freakin Twittersphere. May it rot.

CJJ March 5, 2012 um 7:23 pm

While I would agree that the article is Luddite in nature, I think it is an accurate observation.

Learning to assimilate information from multiple formats as speedily as possible is a skill that must be learned and developed to survive in the information age we live in. I think the fear is, and I’ve read essays that agree, is that the skill of "deep" learning as well as the ability to enjoy and appreciate works which require one to slow down to fully capture the meaning of obscure texts may be impaired.

But as often is the case, those that can’t do attack those that can. My wife can finish a book faster on her Kindle Fire than I can on my eInk reader and, too add salt to the wound, do this while playing Words With Friends, watching a video on hulu, check her email, keep up on the news, etc., etc.

Sherri March 5, 2012 um 7:41 pm

I used to read and watch TV at the same time when I was a kid, and that was in the dark ages when you only had 4 channels and had to walk over to the TV to change the channel!

barbara aka kitten March 5, 2012 um 8:35 pm

ROTF!!!! The only time I never got distracted while reading was if my mom was telling me to do chores. Multitasking may screw with productivity, but it is not the fault of whatever tablet one is using.

Michael anderson March 5, 2012 um 10:22 pm

Totally agree Nate! And to put on my old fogey hat, I bought a HP200LX over 20 years ago, and aside from using it for notes and Lotus 123 and my schedule … I also read e-books (all text) … Very easy to get distracted then, as with Newtons, Palms, Psion, Windows CE, and on and on and on … I do like using my Nook Touch just for reading as it keeps the other stuff at bay and still is an electronic book in my hand 😉

Richard Adin March 6, 2012 um 8:36 am

I guess I’m the sore thumb in this argument. When I read, I want to focus on the reading and do not want the distraction of games. movies, e-mail, or social media. I view it like work: when I’m working, I want to focus on my work. It is true that people can read and watch TV at the same time, but then neither is really getting full attention and things are missed. Every study on multitasking has demonstrated that the depth of understanding and the noticing of nuance suffers with each task added. How much further do we need to go than to look at driving while texting?

When it comes to clasroom work, it is the rare student who can play game while absorbing a lecture. The student gets the surface of the lecture but usually misses the more subtle points, especially as most students do not consider lectures or study "fun" and given the opportunity would prefer "fun".

It is easy to berate these stories simply because we do not want to accept their validity, but berating them does not make them less accurate. I certainly wouldn’t want someone who was not focused on me to decide my fate.

Nate Hoffelder March 6, 2012 um 9:31 am

But Rich, it has no validity.

The NYTimes "discovered" a problem that has actually been round for over a decade. What’s more, this isn’t even a "problem". No one has been robbed of their ability to focus on a single topic.

V Reed March 6, 2012 um 3:14 pm

I read on a tablet. When I sit down with it to read a book, I do just that. I’m not distracted by Angry Birds, Facebook or anything else that lives on my tablet. I’m not even distracted by my children or my husband unless he makes a point of getting my attention first. I was the same way when it was a book with real pages. It isn’t a problem, it is a choice. I choose to read. Some days, I choose to annihilate zombies or spend a wasted hour on Pinterest. Either way it is by choice and design. I was always taught that distractions are a choice. You can choose to pay attention to them or to ignore them.

That being said, some distractions are more persistent, like husbands, house fires or the bizarre pockets of silence children create when they’re doing something forbidden. Ignoring them isn’t necessarily in your best interest.

Do eBooks Make It Harder to Recall What You Just Read? Answer: No – The Digital Reader March 14, 2012 um 8:44 pm

[…] to look at them and ask questions about the tools used. See, while I’m not bothered about being distracted while using a tablet, I do see how it might affect grades. Thsi might have had an effect on the later study.paperP.S. If […]

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