Friday, June 17, 2011

Does Not Compute

By Meghan B

The other day on the train, a woman sat down in the seat in front of me. She turned to the stranger next to her to apologize for having to rummage through her bags. "I'm so glad to be on the train." She said. "I'm so tired of staring at a computer screen all day! Now I can sit back and read my book."

Since I am a busy body, I looked over when she said this. I felt the same way entirely and had already cracked open the paperback that had been in my purse. I wondered what book the woman was reading and glanced at her. To my astonishment, she pulled out a slim Kindle from her purse.

I'm right in thinking that e-book readers are computers, right? Staring at the screen of a Kindle is just like staring at the screen of a computer, right? I was totally taken by surprise by the Kindle the woman produced. Are e-book readers not considered computers?

My unease about e-readers is well known. I don't trust them. You can pry my books out of my cold dead hands, get off my lawn, etc. I spend basically every waking hour staring at a screen in some form or another so I am always glad to settle down with the comforting off-white pages of a paperback. I have always thought of e-book readers as single purpose little computers. They have screens, they have buttons, they have text. They aren't books, they are computers that store the texts of books on them.

The lady on the train seemed perfectly happy to stare at another screen for a half hour, after a long day of screen-staring at her job. I just couldn't get over it. When did e-book reader become synonymous with actual books? Is staring at the screen of one really all that different than staring at your work computer for eight hours?

I propose the question to you, dear readers. Are e-book readers computers or books? Do you pull your Kindle out after a long day at work and don't think about how you are staring at another screen? Does the fabled e-ink really make a difference? Help me to understand this, because I am still just baffled.
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  1. I'm willing to bet that - for her at least, given the conversation - the e-ink does make a difference if only because it's not backlit. Maybe she likes having an adjustable font size as well, or the ability to look up a word instantly.

    The Kindle is ultimately a single-purpose device. It gives you books, digitally. Sure, you can do other things on it, but those have always struck me as items that Amazon tossed on because they could, not because people were clamoring for a half-assed browsing experience.

  2. Kindle is a bit of both. It really is easy on the eyes - much better than reading a computer screen. And it's not just books - I admit I mostly use mine for playing games...

  3. eInk is very, very VERY different from LCD.

    A Kindle is like a book, but better. Join us...

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  5. I just have one question. Have you ever come home from work and unwound by watching tv?

    That point aside. E-Ink != Computer screen. Perhaps you should look into how E-Ink works, it's hard to explain it. In an oversimplified way, imagine someone writing with pen and paper in real time then erasing it every time you turn the page and re-writing it. If I take your book and laminate it's pages, because there's plastic over the words, does that make it a computer screen? what about playing with an etch-a-sketch after work? Is that playing with a computer screen? what about drawing on a whiteboard with laminate coating? Is that playing on a computer screen?

    You see my point. There is a fundamental difference in technology. Your ink is applied by hand, this ink is electrically charged like an automatic etch-a-sketch. Still just a glorified etch-a-sketch.

  6. I wonder if part of it is WHAT she's doing on the computer. If you stare at a computer screen doing work tasks, which are generally no fun, you won't enjoy it. If you stare at a digital screen reading a book, which is generally super awesome, you will enjoy it. But I agree, her word choices were funny!

    That said, I find the Kindle to replicate the book-reading experience quite well, so I do sometimes forget that I'm holding something that would break if I dropped it. :)

  7. I love to unwind with my Nook! The E-ink display really is nothing like staring at a computer screen! I could see your point if she pulled out a NookColor. They have a backlit LCD screen that is no different than a computer screen, but the e-ink is SO different from an LCD screen.

  8. Have to agree with everyone that e-ink is SO different. You really do forget you're reading on a Kindle because it feels like a book. I am completely addicted to mine. It has other features, but I don't use them. I had an iPad, but it was too computer-like and I far preferred the simplicity of my Kindle! Plus, the ability to obtain new books while wearing my jammies is unbeatable.

  9. Meghan -

    I getcha! And I totally agree :)


  10. I love my kindle. I can read on it for hours. Love, love, love and love.

    But I wonder if she meant that she was happy to be doing what she wanted to do instead of having to work?

  11. Sleep specialists will tell you to avoid CRTs and LCDs for a couple hours before bed. But not e-ink. That's a key difference right there. The lack of light they produce doesn't mess with your sleep cycle or your eyes in the same way. They are very distinct.