Psychology Today: E-Books and Forgetting What to Read

Great article from Bill Irwin at Psychology Today: “E-Books and Forgetting What to Read”, with some perspective on the hidden behavioral effects of what the increasing presence of ebooks and ereaders may mean.

There is something about the physical presence of a book, unread, silently reproachful, that is always going to play upon our consciences more than an ebook hidden behind the darkened Kindle or iPad screen can —

“I don’t want to forget what to read. I have books all over the place, and I read different books for different purposes. In my office next to my desk is a small end table displaying six philosophy books that I’ve bought in recent months. Unread, the books haunt and mock me, and because of this eventually I will read them.”

But, one of the great things about ebooks is that you can read them anywhere. Or, rather, maybe one of the worst things about ebooks is that you can read them anywhere.

We all have our different reading habits, and sometimes that means different kinds of reading in different places. I’d been thinking about this after getting my recent hands-on time with the iPad. An all-in-one device can be great for the sake of convenience, but there’s a different psychological feel to reading on a device you do everything else on (email, browsing, shopping, watching kitten videos on YouTube … come to think of it, what percentage of time do you think people spend reading books on iPads?), as opposed to doing your reading with a single-purpose reading device. You know, like books: “The idea of having all those books for all those different purposes on the same device seems inconveniently convenient.”


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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