The story of how I ended up downloading and happily reading Lacuna on my iPhone got me thinking anew about the relationship between content and format. When we wonder if print is better than digital, or if a podcast is better than a lecture, we are asking the wrong question. It is more complicated than which is better, and it is more complicated than personal preference. We need to understand how the combination of format and content effect outcomes. Under what conditions is digital delivery of content going to produce better learning outcomes than print? Under what conditions is it more pleasurable to read a book in print than on a Kindle or an iPhone?
I began “reading” Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver as an audiobook. It was perfect for my wife and I to listen to on the way to our honeymoon in Mariposa, and on the daily drives into Yosemite that week. But we got through only a quarter of it, and when we tried listening at home I would get too distracted.
My wife plunged ahead without me, listening to it on her daily commute. I very much wanted to continue reading Lacuna as well, but I bike to work and don’t think I could listen fully and bike safely at the same time (feel free to insert walking and chewing gum joke here).
Yesterday I had 4 unplanned hours to kill in the Dallas airport so I naturally went to the bookstore. I almost bought a print copy, but Lacuna is not out in paperback yet. The hardcover was just too pricey and too unwieldy for travel reading. I’ve also found hardcovers unwieldy for my other usual pleasure reading locations–the bathtub and the bed. So, I resigned myself to waiting for the paperback.
Later, while playing with Duke’s Library app for iPhone, I searched for “Lacuna” and discovered there was a Kindle edition available (loaded on a Kindle available for check out at Duke). I quickly downloaded the Kindle for iPhone app, bought a copy of Lacuna for $9.99, and happily read a few chapters on the plane.
I was surprised at how easy it is to read a novel on the iPhone. I generally hate reading anything more than 2 pages on my laptop, so I didn’t expect to like reading on the iPhone. But size matters — the iPhone is light enough and small enough that it is like a very small paperback. You get about a paragraph per screen, and you turn the page with a flick of the finger.
Now, anytime I have some spare time, I can get back to reading my book, without having to carry a heavy book around. I can read it in bed, and am going to get a waterproof cover so I can read in the bathtub as well. In this case, my goal was portable pleasure reading, and the iPhone works great. I suppose an actual Kindle (or other e-book reader) would work too, but I don’t have one, and don’t really want to have to carry another device around with me. For my purposes, reading Lacuna on the iPhone is a perfect fit.
(Oh, and for those interested, I wrote about 3/4 of this post on my iPhone. I finished it up, edited, and added links on my laptop.)