On AndroidPIT, Chris Marshall writes a stirring defense of reading on smartphones, in which he brings up and counters the chief objections to reading a novel on such a small screen. It’s an interesting enough article, but I wonder whether it’s really necessary?
Marshall counters the desire to have a physical book with the ability to carry many more books around on a phone than you could physically. As for the discomfort of staring at the screen, it’s possible to make the screen considerably more comfortable by dimming it and switching to a black background—a Kindle might be more comfortable, but a smartphone is something you’ll carry literally everywhere. As for the constant distraction of notifications, you can just turn the notifications off.
And for all that you can only see a relatively short amount of text on the screen at a time, and don’t have physical cues to tell you how much of a book you’ve read, Marshall notes that can actually be a good way to read. He waxes poetic:
Reading on a smartphone can be a liberating experience when seen in this way. Cast adrift of a material footing, not knowing where we are as we would in a book just by the feel of the pages between thumb and forefinger in each hand, leaves only the words and the void between them. We are dwarfed by the mystery of what has passed, what is to come and where we are in relation to the whole, and this is a positive thing.
This untethered experience has the potential to make reading more beguiling and immersive than it has ever been (assuming you do have those notifications disabled).
Plus, it lets you turn moments of ordinarily wasted time—a commute on public transit, a doctor’s waiting room, a grocery line—into reading opportunities.
All that’s great, so far as it goes, and it’s not exactly anything new to long-time Teleread readers. But I wonder why it’s necessary to be so defensive about it? We already know that more people than ever before are reading on their smartphones now—not just novels, but long news stories, too. Voracious romance readers especially love them.
Given the apparent decline in the tablet and e-reader markets, it seems likely that smartphones are going to be one of the biggest methods of e-reading going forward. So perhaps convincing people to use them to read is not all that necessary—they’ll be the main e-reading device many people have. It might be a better idea to concentrate on getting people to read at all.