Kindle versus spindle?

For the post related to the image below see Reading Digitally

Screenshot from iPad Alice video

JPS has a post, Computers, you, and books that after rehearsing some of the common (and justified) concerns of modern-day Socrates that we use electronic texts so much that our attention span is withering. [For Socrates bemouning the terrors of writing it was memory that was in danger.] He quotes from the Chicago Tribune:

A friend of mine in her early 20s managed to poke a finger through the tissue-thin argument that iPads, Kindles and Nooks are just as good as books, that reading is reading, that content is all that matters.

She and her classmates at the University of Notre Dame were invited to the home of a revered professor. It was a gleaming palace of erudition, she said: Room after room was filled with elegant floor-to-ceiling bookcases; each bookcase was filled with beautiful volumes; each volume seemed to glow with the written legacy of the world’s wisdom.

It was, she recalled, breathtaking.

Alphabet book by Muffet

Alphabet book by Muffet

Here, lightly edited are my comments:

I’ve loved books, all sorts and conditions of book, for at least sixty years now. But, there are increasingly few books I am willing to fetishise. Some because this particular tome has memories, like the copy of Just So Stories my father read to me, some because the physical production is just so beautiful… but such volumes are rare, and becoming less commonly available and at a higher relative price. I notice that even renowned bibliophile Jim West hesitates before the cost of Brill’s handsome volumes…

Esther scroll from a Sephardic Synagogue (Wikipedia)

The issue, as always, seems to me to be not the format of books, but the forming of readers. That requires not the rants of creaky old curmudgeons, but the time and energy of influential parents and grandparents (or those temporarily, perhaps, in loco).
Now I do not mean that either JPS or others of you who bemoan the (not yet accomplished, indeed looking likely to survive with far more life than the scroll has done) death of the codex are  curmudgeons, but I do think you may resemble the King Canute of fame and fable ;)

The real job is reading to small children who then learn to want to read, whether on Kindle or spindle matters much less than the simple desire!

3 comments on “Kindle versus spindle?

  1. Mark Nichols

    Hi Tim,

    I’ve downloaded the Adobe Digital Editions application – and I am loving it. With an extensive Logos library and a growing libarry of ePubs, I think I’ve found my future… my little netbook is finally finding a good use! I don’t buy the ‘revered professor’ argument one iota. At the moment I am reading Dickens’ “Great Expectations”, Beasley-Murray’s “John” (Word) and Rock’s “Quiet Leadership” all as digital editions. I agree with your conclusion!


  2. Tim

    But big fat juicy books look so educated!

  3. Tim

    From a comment (May 26th 2011) on Facebook:
    I felt he [the post above] did not get to the heart of the matter because he did not adequately discuss the pros and cons of the formats. As you can see one of his commentators focused their response on the professor’s argument; why because that dominated the blog.

    My reply: I think that “the pros and cons of the formats” is in many ways a non-issue. There is great literature (like, at least IMHO the Just So Stories) that engages the imagination and attention of the audience, then (whether fiction or non-fiction) the format is only an issue of convenience. However, behind and under the issue of convenience and even under the Socrates effects (and our memories ARE worse for writing, and probably our attention spans ARE shorter for scanning) there is a deeper issue, giving children a love of words. With that they will read whether on Kindles or Spindles or even (still) codexes, without it they won’t. Then they will live impoverished lives.