Nicholas Carr from the Britannica Blog on Why How We Read Matters:
“A change in form is always, as well, a change in content. That is unavoidable, as history tells us over and over again. One reads an electronic book differently than one reads a printed book – just as one reads a printed book differently than one reads a scribal book and one reads a scribal book differently than one reads a scroll and one reads a scroll differently than one reads a clay tablet.”
Carr’s piece is primarily about the fear that the digital book format will destroy “the ethic of the monastery – the ethic of deep attentiveness, of contemplativeness, of singlemindedness” that getting lost in a story provides. He says it’s because the Internet is a place of constant “clutter.” It can be, but his explanation is incredibly dramatic especially because the e-book reader is still a book buyer, someone who reads to get lost in a story, awed by prose. But Carr isn’t entirely off base about form. It presents the opportunity for a different experience with the content, but not a negation of quality as he seems to suggest .
Listening to the audiobook version of Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch, the first in a three-part series about America during the Martin Luther King years, is like sitting through a private lecture. It’s smooth, lucid and functional. The paperback is about 1070 pages and a pain to carry around.Holding it open on a crowded subway car is often a really uncomfortable battle between balance and concentration. PTW is only the second book I’ve ever listened to and already I’ve noticed a change in the way I’m experiencing the information I’m hearing.
I’ve been retaining facts with slightly more authority after my first listen than I’m accustomed to after my first reading of a text. However, I’m less likely to follow up on research interests than say if I had the notes and the bibliography at my immediate disposal. I’m more likely to reread something in my hand then to search for a section I may not remember hearing. Ever tried searching for a missed passage in your audiobook? It’s a frustrating game of trial-and-error. A minute or two off and you’re suddenly “pages” from where you’d intended to go. I can be psychologically resistant to the sight of long descriptive passages whereas by ear it’s smooth sailing. I’m considering purchasing books in the audio format in genres I would not have considered in hardcover, paperback or e-book. There is the sometimes problematic issue of interpretive intonations. This is similar to trying to read a book after seeing the movie. Since the movie images, as in someone else’s interpretation, are implanted in your mind it can be hard to fill in the imaginative space from the page.
Much has been said about the death of the book and more dramatically the death of the written word, but how people imbibe information is nothing more than a reflection of the culture at large. The existence of one option doesn’t necessarily have to cancel out the importance or quality of another. Despite the cacophony of available information and entertainment, I think the fact that various options for reading exist is something worth celebrating.