Commuting with Kobo: The Medium is Not the Message

Part 5 of 5
To be lost in a book is pure escapism. You no longer notice the hard seat; you don’t hear the repeated blasts of the train whistle or the station announcements; you no longer smell the chemical toilet or see the scenery.
You’re not necessarily in a better place – Rohinton Mistry may have transported you to the slums of India or Joseph Boyden to the trenches of World War I. But you are away from your own reality: inspired, shocked or touched by someone else’s.

Though usually welcome, sometimes this disconnect from your surroundings can cause trouble. Today, lost in Diana Galbadon’s colonial America, I looked up as the subway doors were closing on my destination. Usually I have some segment of my subconscious in charge of tracking stops, but a combination of lack of sleep and a riveting plot development wrecked havoc with my awareness system. Turning off my Kobo, I got off at the next station and trudged through the tunnel to go around to the trains back south.

I’m telling you about this unplanned detour to counter an argument that I’ve heard about e-readers. A co-worker handling my Kobo figured she would never enjoy a book on it, as she would be too focused on having to press the button to turn the page. She demonstrated this as she flipped through one of the titles, pointing out the fraction of a second it took for the page to change. I disagreed. If one flips through a book, there is always that instant between pages. Until the text draws you under its spell, you are more conscious of the medium than the message. You need to actually sit and read something before you can judge.

Maybe I am not the perfect example. I would read A Prayer for Owen Meany if it were written on a roll of toilet paper and would stop noticing the discarded squares piling up before Owen was passed around over the heads of his fellow Sunday-school students. But do give the experience of using a e-reader a longer test than watching how the pages turn.
Another co-worker figured she was too old to adapt. I was quick to bring up my mother. (Not that she is old! But she has over a decade on this woman.) Whether it be nature or nurture, my mother is to thank for my love of reading. A frequent traveler, she is the ultimate convert to e-readers and her Kindle is always in her purse. Recently, when discussing what she should download next, she casually mentioned that she was 77 per cent through The Girl Who Played With Fire.
Don’t get me wrong. I (and my mom) will always own lots of books. I love flipping through pages, revisiting favourite passages. I love the colourful spines lined up in my bookshelf and the dusty fragrance of the paper. There will still be the hours spent wandering the bookstore, happily planning my next escape route from the drudgery of commuting. But now I have one more decision to make. Whether to go hard copy or download.

Reading can be transcendent. And it doesn’t matter if the words are on paper or on a screen imitating paper.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.