This  Atlantic video delves into the pros and cons of smart phones for daters and others.

But what about phones for reading?

Have smart phones in the end done more harm than good, through distractions such as Facebook and other social media? Is your iPhone really “saving literature”?

Few are keener on smart phones as reading platforms than I am—complete with my advocacy of cell phone book clubs. But for me the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might think.

It isn’t enough just to own a smart phone. You also have to associate it with books. Many young people don’t even know they can read books on phones by way of major commercial apps such as Amazon’s—or better software like Moon+ Reader Pro. Beyond that, it would help if more actually used the “Airplane Mode” or the equivalent to turn off distractions when reading on phones. More might if they knew how and saw their peers doing so. And that’s part of the reasoning behind the cell phone book club idea.

Meanwhile, back to the question. Do you think that in the end smart phones have actually hurt reading more than helped it? Would books be faring better if we still were in the flip phone era? But is it also possible that if schools, libraries and other institutions tried harder—through cell phone book clubs and otherwise—they could successfully use this same technology to promote books as a medium?

Related: How cell phone book clubs could get young people reading and change their lives, by Bertel King.


  1. Reading books on the iPhone and the iPod touch just got a bit more interesting. Colleagues that have downloaded the beta version of iOS 8.4 tell me that the iBooks.app there will render interactive eBooks created with iBooks Author.
    To fully grasp the implications of this development, one needs to include much more than iBookstore fiction in their gaze. In the K-12 and higher education spaces, the iBooks Author app has opened non-fiction authorship to a vast number of students and teachers alike. Here’s an example of a K-12 community of interactive eBook authors using this app: https://plus.google.com/communities/112862452781960201400
    So, eBooks that contain more than just words and a smattering of images may have a much greater impact on reading amongst iOS mobile users. With this new ‘evidence’ the jury is still out.

  2. I read on a Kindle 3, and iPad 3 and an iPhone 5, but I’ve found that all three have increased my appreciation for printed books.

    And no, it’s not the smell of the paper. My smell is so poor, I can’t even smell paper. It’s the sheer physicality of printed books and nine times out of ten, the fact that they look better than the current primitive state of ebook layout. I also don’t have to worry about it getting lost in the half-a-dozen or so reader apps I’ve used.

    I doubt smart phones have hurt reading because I doubt they’ve had much impact at all. Young adults read a lot on their smartphones, but from what I’ve seen, it’s mostly the social media. The screens of most smartphones are simply too small for book reading. You have to page too often.

    I do think, however, that smartphones have increased the number of people who listen to audiobooks. I actually started doing that in the era of the Sony Walkman. My iPhone is far better than messing with cassette tapes much less those dreadful books on CDs.

  3. @Frank and @Michael:

    Frank: I agree. It’s exciting—not just the chance for students and teachers to create but also experiment with the new media. Thanks for a reminder of the delights ahead. At the same time, I hope that students will also be exposed to an updated version of the old book culture and feel comfortable with all-text as well. Depends on the book.

    Michael: My favorite smart phone’s screen is six inches—more or less the same size as the E Ink Kindles even if the aspect ratio is different. The screen is sharp enough for me to squeeze lots of text onto each page. That said, cell phone reading isn’t for all. It’s a matter of eyesight and habit and other variables.


  4. I read almost exclusively on my iPhone. It is an amazing convenience. I have books with me, wherever I go…and I take advantage of it. It is one thing to have it…it is another thing to actually read…when time permits. I have 15-30 minutes to wait in an office…I pull out the iPhone and continue the book that I was reading. It allows me not to get frustrated when waiting in a “Waiting Room”. I have been plowing through books this way. Also, when in the car, I listen to audiobooks. Sometimes I get more done that way. Anyway, I am reading more. That is the point.

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