Accidentally Going Digital

Peter Damien

Staff Writer

Peter Damien has been reading since time out of mind, writing for a very long time, and been hopelessly lost to a disgraceful addiction to tea for a few years now. He writes short stories, comics, a lot of articles, and novels at an achingly slow pace. When not staring at words, he spends a lot of time in the woods, as befits a man of his hairstyle. He lives with a billion books, a tolerant wife, too many animals, and also two small boys. When it comes to writing, the small boys are, frankly, no help whatsoever. You can find Peter on Twitter, if that's the kind of thing you're into. Twitter: @peterdamien

If there’s one thing I spend a lot of time championing around here, it’s that everyone should read whatever they want without shame, and they should read it in whatever format gives them the most pleasure and ease of use. You want to read Shakespeare in giant gold-edged hardcover form? Go for it. You want to read 50 Shades of Gray on your Kindle? Sure, have fun. I hope you get some enjoyment out of it. I am open and accepting.

But that said…come on, I’ve got preferences and prejudices just like everybody else. I just recognize that they apply only to me and I try to keep them to myself.

One of those prejudices has been toward ebooks. I don’t like them. I poke at them a lot, I try out books on kindles and iPads and iPhones, on light-up screen Kindles, and so on and so forth. I enjoy them the way I enjoy experimenting with any piece of gadgetry…but then, when I want to stop fiddling around and get down to the brass tacks of reading (which would be more comfortable without all these brass tacks), I inevitably go physical. I have shelves and shelves of physical books, and even if I have a book digitally, I am inclined to buy a hard copy of it.

Not only that, but when I do read a book digitally, I find that I read a lot slower, and I burn out faster. I have absolutely no idea why either of these things occur, despite thinking about it a lot. I assume it’s something about the format which just grinds the gears in my head a little, for no rational reason. Whenever I stop reading for a little while, it’s because I got bogged down in an ebook I was reading (even if I was really enjoying it) and wandered off.

Externally, I’d made my peace with all of this. Everyone else can read how they want, I’ll read how I want, and we’re just fine. Internally, I kept picking away at it because I don’t enjoy disliking things other people enjoy. I like figuring it out and enjoying it too (or understanding precisely why I can’t enjoy it and going on my own way).

Then something really interesting happened, which is that the past two months passed and I looked up the other day and realized…I hadn’t read a physical book in two months.

And then I said what the hell?

That is so weird. It’s like being a fish with primitive lungs who suddenly realizes he’s been out of the ocean for ages and stands around going how did that happen? And how indeed did it happen? What caused the shift, what caused me to so abruptly become comfortable with it that I didn’t even notice the shift happening?

For one, it was Book Riot itself. Via Book Riot, I am (gobsmackingly) lucky enough to get access to lots of books which haven’t quite come out yet. The nature of publishing these days means that the vast majority of these books are digital, so I get copies of them and send them off to my Kindle Paperwhite, where they wait patiently for me. In the early days, I would announce “I would prefer physical books if possible” and publishing as a whole would announce back “We would prefer you to quit moaning and read the damn book, turkey,” which is a fair point. So eventually, I got used to it.

I suppose this led to a gradual build-up of digital in my life, as books I really, really wanted to read were available, but only digitally. So what choice did I have? Lacking that choice meant more and more digital, and I suppose less and less thinking about it.

The other big thing was Life, and I bet this is the common one for everybody. I have two boys who aren’t all that small anymore. They’re in school, at playgrounds, they are very very busy, and the fact is that my Kindle fits in my pocket and lights up to help me read. It’s convenient, and it fits a helluva lot better into my jeans pocket than a lot of the books on my shelf (just you try shoving a Stephen King novel in your pocket and see what happens). The Kindle can just go along with me, then sit on a shelf with my phone and be waiting when I’ve got twenty minutes to read. And then there’s the couple of tablets floating around, which are also comfortable to read. Basically what is happening is, digital reading effortlessly and subconsciously slips into your life without you even realizing it.

It’s the path of least resistance to reading, which is why even now that I’ve realized it, I haven’t been inclined to do anything about it. There hasn’t been any great and conscious rush back to physical books over digital. It just seems to have stopped being one-over-the-other all of a sudden. I’m happy to take books either way, which is a completely new experience.

I still buy very few books digitally, but writing this article and thinking about it, I’ve realized that I’m not as adverse to the idea as I was even recently, so clearly that has changed to. It’s a brave new world for me reading things, and I really like that. I like the change. As Bernard Berenson once said, “Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago,” and I would rather be ever-changing and occasionally contradictory than ignorant and stuck.

Plus, it means more gadgets to play with. There are no downsides here.