21 January 2010

Get your new iPad here!

I saw a man on a train reading the TLS on a Kindle.

I also happened to have a (paper) copy of the TLS in my bag and, aside from the unlikelihood of two TLS readers coinciding like this, having picked tables next to each other (or maybe there was some mysterious encoding in that particular Victoria- Brighton carriage), it struck me how unlike reading what this man next to me was doing was.

I glanced across. I saw him reading the TLS. I saw him turning pages by pressing the right arrows, and then back to the left. I saw him grow bored with articles, poorly written, not in an area he was interested in. How like reading the TLS it seemed, but also how new - I want to say annoying, I want to say fenickety, unnatural, etc - I was struck by how awkward it seemed - but I suppose what I mean is new.

Reader reviews on Amazon (I wasn’t going to strike up a conversation with a fellow passenger - technological advances aside, this is still England!) say that the TLS on Kindle has had some teething problems through 2009 in terms of formatting and spelling mistakes. (My favourite review came from one R. Roosa in Florida - who I imagined on Miami Beach jostling with muscle-bound, oiled-up bathers…: ‘therrors in th iskindle edition are maddening. Thisis afterall a literary pub lication.’) These have apparently now been cleared up.

But seeing the man with the Kindle, because it defamiliarized what is a kind of archetype, I suppose (filed in the place in my mind under ‘what is reading the TLS’), it made me reflect on something usually intuitive and unthought about - how unlike reading it seems - rather than making me think about switching over myself.

The way I normally read the TLS, or any magazine, or a collection of short stories for that matter, is by beginning at the Contents, going for what most interests me (or a short piece if I only have a two minute bus journey), and working out, forward or back, from there. Sometimes I will keep my finger in the Contents, if I’m unsure between one or two articles/ stories, and think I'll want to glance back. Sometimes I will flick to the contributors section having read the first paragraph or a particularly misjudged or brilliant first sentence! The author isn't the slightest bit dead when you know s/he's there!... With certain publications, I always start in a certain place - in the same way that someone will surely go to the cover story that made them buy the magazine - exhaust that page or two, and then head back to the front page.

Interestingly, or inevitably, the ‘normal’ reading experience is the gauge for how good Digital Tablets are - ie. other people (marketing departments and developers) must have had to defamiliarize their own ideas of ‘reading’, ie. David Foster Wallace was perspicacious as ever in alighting on Focus Groups as strange and poetic situations…

eg. ‘one of the Kindle DX's big enhancements is its ability to reorient content. The accelerometer inside can adjust to display all content horizontally or vertically, or even at a full 180-degree rotation. This ability conveniently obviates left-side navigation buttons, and is great if you're left-handed, or even if you're a righty who simply wants to shake things up and vary how you're holding the e-reader, just as when you shift a physical book from one hand to the other.’

Now, how much more like reading will this
be? Will Apple do what they like to do, and try to blow consumer’s conceptions off track, producing something so easy-to-use and intuitive-feeling (remember how iPod-listening changed what you thought about your old Discman?) that it re-maps what feels ‘natural’ - showing up ‘naturalness/ normality/ usual’ as the changeable, plastic things they are.

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