What’s a Computer? What’s a Book? Who Cares?

The other day a post on The New York Times Bits Blog told the story of the post author, Nick Bilton, who was told, on two separate occasions in two separate New York City eating establishments, that he needed to put away his Kindle and his iPad. Each establishment doesn’t allow computer use. The first time it happened to Mr. Bilton he was reading on his Kindle – not using a computer for email, work, Facebook, or something of that nature. The second time he was taking notes on his iPad. (Which of course is a bit more like computing.)

When I read Bilton’s story I thought to myself, “My gosh, I think if I were told that I couldn’t use my iPad to read while in a coffee shop, or my iPad to take notes, while in a sandwich shop, I would probably become pretty irritated.” For one thing, the only way I read books, newspapers, and magazines these days is on my iPad or iPhone. If I was told that I couldn’t do that reading I would be stuck without reading material while in the establishment. That would never happen with a book. No one would come up to me I bet if I were sitting in one of these places and reading a physical book and tell me I had to put it away. (Imagine the outcry if that happened.) So why is it OK to say “no” to reading in one format and OK to say “yes” to reading in another?

The blog post reminded me of a discussion I had earlier in the summer with someone who told me that what I read on my iPad or iPhone shouldn’t be called a book. (Even though what I’m reading is the same content as what comes in hardcover or paperback form and sits on bookstore, newsstand, and library shelves.) I still am not sure why the naming is such an issue, but it does point to what I think is going on when stores and restaurants say “no” to Kindles, iPads, laptops, tablets, notebooks, etc. It’s a belief that reading on a device is not the same as reading a physical item like a book, therefore it can be judged differently and have different rules associated with it.

But, really, is that where we still are after a few years of living with the Sony eReader, the Kindle, the Nook, and other reading devices? Why is it that we can’t accept both as the same? I thought for a moment that Andy Ihnatko on the MacBreak Weekly podcast had it right when he said (and I paraphrase), “If you love books you won’t like the Kindle, but if you love reading you will.” That makes sense to me. If you love the physical object then the Kindle isn’t the object to love. But, if you love getting lost in a good story or engaged by the history of a culture, then what’s the difference what format that love and engagement takes place in?

That’s true, but then there’s all the questions and topics so many people bring up. Questions of how the experience differs. People read faster or slower via traditional print or via a digital device. People are more or less engaged when reading traditional print or via a digital device People…. fill in the blank with what you’ve heard others say.

My question is, does it matter? Aren’t we at a point in the digital reading world where format doesn’t matter but words, story, information does. Isn’t it time to say, reading is reading, is reading and who cares how one goes about it? I know that I don’t want anyone saying I can’t read in a certain location on a certain device. And, I know, teens don’t want us to de-value their reading by saying reading on a digital device doesn’t count as reading, or that certain types of reading can’t be done in a particular location. So, really, who cares what the format or device is?

Published by

Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.