Conversations about teens, technology and distraction are nothing new. When mobile phones first started to move from the domain of Important Business People at airports and into the hands of the general public, we worried that their presence in schools would be too distracting for students. (And we still have to tell the cinema-going public–including an awful lot of people over the age of 18–not to text or talk during movies.) Now that more and more schools allow students to bring their own laptops or tablets to classes, we worry about filtering and blocking sites like Facebook or YouTube during school hours.
And now there’s the question of reading on digital devices, and the threat of distraction by the device itself–or, at least, that’s what New York Times business writers Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel would have us ponder. Is tablet reading “more like a 21st-century cacophony than a traditional solitary activity”?
I don’t know about you, but I’m a multi-platform reader. I have a (print) book in my car in case I find myself early for an appointment. I have OverDrive on my Android phone and my iPod Touch, so that I can easily check a book out from my local public library if I’m on the go. I have a Nook Color, which I mostly use when traveling (and that my partner has all but co-opted after giving it to me for my birthday). And I’m constantly picking up (print) books at work to read at the desk, many sucking me in enough to get tossed in my bag to read at home.
And here’s my secret: I’m always a distracted reader.
Things I have done while reading a book:
Looked up a word I did’t know (sometimes on a built-in dictionary, sometimes online, sometimes in an actual print dictionary)
Looked up an event or a person on Wikipedia when I didn’t get a reference
Responded to a text
Put on music
(Half) listened to NPR
Eaten Chex mix
Attempted to keep my cats from eating Chex mix
Cooked a meal
Flown cross country
Things I have occasionally failed to do while reading a book:
Get off at the right subway stop
Leave for an appointment on time
Check something in the oven before it starts burning
Prep for a class coming in last period
Finish a level in Lego Harry Potter
Feed the cats dinner on time
None of the things I listed apply only to e-reading, by the way. Most of them have happened in the last month with print books, actually. And here’s the thing: once I was done with all those things (or done failing at those things), more often than not I went back to reading my book.
But what say you, reader? Does your Kindle or Nook or iPad make reading a “21st century cacophony”? Do you long for a 20th (or 19th, or 18th) century “solitary activity”? Can your teens relate to those who say the lure of apps and email is just too great when reading on a tablet?