Do e-books foster a love for reading?

Do e-books foster a love for reading?

Do e-books foster a love for reading?

The digital environment in general and the Internet in particular have substantially influenced the reading process. Readers in the digital era tend to exhibit aliteracy, promiscuity, lack of repeat use, and of course, a decline in visit to libraries.

Alitracy refers to the tendency of a person who can read but is not interested in reading or is disinclined to derive information from literary sources. Promiscuity is the tendency of bouncing or flicking from one source to another with some alacrity and only occasionally returning to a source. As a manifestation of a multitude of choices and a rich digital visibility, promiscuous readers (more so with younger ones) exhibit volatility and visit too many sites/ sources, do not remember them nor intend to come back to them. Another aspect of the ‘bouncing’ behaviour is shallow searching with low site penetration and not viewing more than a few beginning pages (i.e., not reading completely). Despite visiting a number of sites/ sources, they are less bothered about content attributes.

Repeat use behaviour is a quality-indicator and refers to brand loyalty or site-sickness. Obviously only a small proportion of high users of digital sources are repeat users. With the massive and increasing choice presented in the digital environment, relying on libraries is more for material with the stamp of quality or authority. Further, users prefer to search on a trial and error mode in a non-library digital environment relying on search engines and own experience.

With these changes in the digital reading process, it is difficult to answer the question whether e-books foster a love for reading or not, without specifying the type of e-book and the easy availability of the desired book in e-form.

Several types

Depending on the information contained, the properties and functions, there are several types of e-books. The features represented by each type of e-book together with an e-book reader (the gadget) and their advantages need to be contrasted with print books to answer the question. However the initial curiosity and attraction due to the novelty factor certainly help bring the potential user and his e-book together provided one can afford to buy or hire an e-book of his choice together with the gadget.

With software enabling online transcription and synchronising of graphical view on the Braille screen, e-books and audio books can virtually and cost-efficiently replace Braille books. With more than 10,000 Open Access (free) e-journals on the Internet, browsing and downloading of journal articles have substantially increased.  The average number of articles read has doubled over the last 2-3 decades but the average time spent reading an article has been reduced from 45-50 minutes to 30 minutes, thereby indicating that users are not thoroughly reading what they download and instead spend more time searching/ browsing.  

Value additions

Though text books are the first to become e-books, early evidence about the value of academic e-books is mixed and views are quite contradictory. Direct conversion of text by scanning (without conversion of pictures and diagrams) and other features of an intelligent e-book are no better than the print-book. The advantages of interactivity, convenience, economy, portability, easy updating, personalisation (allowing students to build their own personalised digital libraries), remote access to more reading material, searchability, links to allied resources, embedded multimedia, optimising reading time (reading during travel), built-in intelligence, highlights, book marks, notes, pen tools, online reports on how much is read, instant test scores, solved solutions, and videos and internet links to do home work, are the real value additions. It is believed that once students are connected to the full range of the technology, they may enjoy it better. Even children grasp technology, and are able to learn the basic features of the e-book, although they use very little of some features like highlighting, dictionary, etc.

The other side

The negative aspects are that not all students are comfortable with e-books due to unsatisfactory navigational controls, tiring, less efficient and even ‘painful’ experience of reading lengthy text on a small screen (reading speed reduces by about 30 per cent), and lighting issues for outdoor reading.  The success of e-books and its enjoyability depend much on the price and availability of a variety of content as well as factors like hardware, software, ease of the reading process with navigation of lengthy text, viewing large images and the ability to create a sense of place in the e-book. Some, probably hastily, conclude that e-books are not yet a useful and practical tool for academic learning because of the slow reading process and difficulty in comprehension of digital text. Interestingly, students’ background also affected their use and opinions of e-books.

Students who are studying science or engineering felt better about technology and could overcome small technical and procedural challenges than those less comfortable with technology.

Despite the negative opinion of some, there is no need to be too pessimistic about e-books. Portability is certainly a very important strength of e-books. To conclude, e-books can help improve the reading habit, but they must have all the features of an intelligent e-book with audio, video, animation, dictionary, etc. incorporated. The availability of millions of free e-books, which are no more than scanned copies of out-of-copyright and ephemeral books, does not help. A majority of these cannot be easily downloaded and read due to their diverse formats.

Digital technology can hardly kill paper which has stood the durability test for centuries. Fundamentally, people are not digital, but prefer to work and play with objects around them. Our memories depend on cues provided by spatial location. Until smart homes arrive with dozens of digital displays, paper is likely to be there. The digital archive is still elusive. Those who built the digital archive have had no courage to destroy the print versions after digitising and hence both print and digital documents coexist, defeating the very purpose of building a digital archive. Unfortunately, digital recording media, format, hardware and the software quickly become obsolete and paradoxically, this is caused by the very same technological progress.

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