The Day I Forgot How to Use a Book

A cautionary tale for us all:

I love books

The Day I Forgot How to Use a Book

I was shocked at what I had just done, so I laughed out loud. I was there, in a house in the Swiss mountains, lying comfortably on a sofa. I was reading Canetti’s «Crowds and Power», a solid 400-page book. And then, as my eyes were approaching the end of yet another page, I swiped upwards. My index finger, quite naturally, swiped upwards on the paper, in an attempt to move the lines I was reading more towards the middle of the page.

It took me a second or so to realise what I had done, but when I did, I was flabbergasted. Since I wasn’t alone in the room, I felt caught, caught at doing the silliest of things. But even more so, I felt caught at doing something that identifies me as a slave to digital devices.

Sure enough, we all know the stories and have seen the videos of small children trying to swipe through a print magazine or touching a plain old TV screen, expecting some response. But hey, I’m 30 years old, I grew up in a paper world. I’ve read thousands of newspapers, academic papers, magazines and books on paper. It’s not that I had learnt a different way to interact with text that I’m now trying to apply to a weird thing called book.

Yet I swiped a book.

I blame it on the iPad. It was the iPad that made me read a lot more digitally, especially longer texts. And it was the iPad that brought digital texts in environments that used to be the domain of physical ones: reading in bed, reading in the train, reading on…a sofa.

Two years, that’s how long I’ve been using an iPad – compared to almost 30 years of using books. Add, for what it’s worth, two more years of iPhone usage, and consider the trackpad of Apple’s more recent notebooks a reinforcement to swiping and scrolling as the main way to interact with text. Still, a couple of years versus three decades. It’s hard not to read significance into that single gesture, applied to the wrong medium.

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