The dangers of the Kindle: attentive reading vs mining for ideas

I love the Kindle app on the iPad. Or at least I want to love it. I’ve been using it intermittently for well over a year now and I’ve gradually realised how difficult I find it to read attentively when using it. I’m a compulsive underliner, margin scribbler and corner folder of books. I sometimes feel slightly embarrassed when a friend asks to borrow a book and, upon handing them an utterly mangled text, find myself wondering if they still want it or they’re just being polite.

Much of the appeal of Kindle for me was the neatness with which it is possible to annotate the text, as well as the ease with which those highlighted sections and annotations can be retrieved. But it’s too easy. I far too often find myself skim reading a text, effectively mining for insights in a way that filters out the overarching coherency of the text. I’m often effectively sorting the text rather than attending to it.

I find using a pen rather frustrating these days. I’ve been touch typing since before I was a teenager and I’m used to being able to articulate myself electronically in a way that keeps up with the flow of thought. Whereas using a pen frustrates me because I perpetually feel as if I can’t write fast enough. But there’s a discipline to this, albeit of a sort I too rarely recognise the value in. It forces me to slow down. It forces me to read attentively. It encourages me to treat the text as a whole.

My claim here isn’t deterministic. I sometimes find myself doing this with books as well. But it’s much less frequent and much less pronounced. Things like eBooks don’t create my tendency to rush but they do amplify it.

6 thoughts on “The dangers of the Kindle: attentive reading vs mining for ideas

  1. I like your approach to reading attentively! It’s something I’ve yet to master, and as I turn more and more to e-books, it seems like it might never be part of my routine.

    Maybe as the medium evolves we’ll see the kind of ways to digest a book evolve too?

  2. hopefully! I think I’m going to stick to paper books where possible though, as I just don’t think I can treat eBooks in the same way….

  3. I’m a compulsive annotater, too, but I find it less effective on a Kindle, as the notes just sit in a big, incoherent pile I never look through, whereas in a physical book I can re-open it at any point and allow my own notes and underlinings to inform a re-reading.

    I still think the kindle is great for other things, though, such as search for use of particular words in a work, and great saving on space. All the free out-of-copyright stuff is great, too – think of a classic, and be reading it in seconds. I couldn’t do without kindle OR print books.

  4. But you can get to them easily, no? I make a lot of use of the amazon kindle web page for getting quotes etc when writing

  5. I’m way too quote heavy in my writing (both blogging and formal stuff) so it’s been a life saver in that respect…

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About Mark