But can you read on the darned thing?

Poor Richard has a confession to make. On weekend mornings he indulges in anachronous activities. That’s right. In his comfortable chair, with a cup of rich, black coffee at his left hand, he reads the newspaper. Not the new-fangled, online version at http://www.newsblip.com; Poor Richard reads the old fashioned black, white and read all over edition.

The bias towards paper is certainly predictable. Print on paper has been my livelihood for the last decade and some. But there is also a practical aspect to this antiquated predilection. At 50, Poor Richard finds the newspaper easy on his eyes.

My fishwrapper of choice is The Macon Telegraph.  The Telegraph, like other local papers in communities of our size, has struggled mightily with the changes of recent years. They have downsized, printing is no longer done in-house.  They’ve been bought and sold by newspaper chains in the throes of the struggle to reinvent an industry considered by some to be irrelevant. Through it all, they’ve done a remarkably good job of covering regional news and integrating very relevant stories and commentary from sister papers and the wire services.

iphone

Lot's of cool features, but can you really read on it?

The story that caught my attention this morning was a report from Stacey Burling of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The headline reads: Convention for neurosurgeons takes paperless to another level. (Yes, you can click on the link and read this online, too).

The gist of the story has to do with a decision made by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons to dispense with paper programs and proceedings at their next convention. Instead they’re going to give each attendee their own iPod Touch, pre-loaded with all of the programs, summaries, and even advertising that they would presumably have received on paper  at previous assemblages.

To quote the article:

Doctors will be able to use the iPods for messaging and for interacting with presenters during meetings. . . . Not only will the iPods encourage community building, but they will save a lot of paper.

The “green” reference, reiterated later in the article, was certainly as predictable as Poor Richard’s reaction to it.  I suspect that the driving force behind the initiative was much more economic than environmental. Some poor printer lost a good project (500,000 sheets to quote the article). The conventioneers are charged $100 each for the iPods. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons saves money.

Here’s the pertinent question: Is the decision practical?

When Poor Richard went searching for the online reference to the article cited above, he was assailed by unwanted audio that burst suddenly from the miniscule speakers of his Powerbook when the Philadelphia Inquirer business page was opened. That’s an annoyance. Poor Richard suspects that trying to read technical papers on the screen of an iPod will go beyond annoyance for many of the convention attendees.

Despite my confession of Luddite tendencies (see QR . . . U Ready?), Poor Richard is no technophobe. In fact, I am the happy owner of an iPhone. A gift from my children at Christmas a year ago, it has become pretty near close to indispensable. That means I could do without it if I had to, but wouldn’t voluntarily throw it in the river. I have some great “apps,” too. One of them tells me what’s on TV. Another can read QR barcodes.

I have also installed a book reader called Stanza, mainly because I am intrigued with the idea of dowloading public domain titles. Did you know that you can get the complete works of Mark Twain from Project Gutenberg? I downloaded Twain’s Innocents Abroad to my iPhone, with great anticipation, opened the ebook, and began to read. That’s where the fun stopped.

It’s not that the type is illegible.  The screen background is bright white and you can adjust the type size for ease of reading. But, the experience is lacking. In Middle Georgia jargon, “somethin just ain’t quite right here.”  First, regardless of the type size, you just can’t fit enough words on the page.  Flipping between pages is touchy . . . I seem to have no difficulty getting electronically misplaced, but a lot of trouble getting relocated.  And the feel of the read is just totally  . . . umh, strange.

There’s also something about the way we read electronically that is very different. Perhaps it’s because of the massive volume of information, or the hyperlinks, or Poor Richard’s propensity to get perpetually sidetracked; it seems nearly impossible to read online for understanding. Online reading seems almost self-conditioned for scanning and browsing. Indicative of this is the market for textbooks about computers and programming. All of the information needed to learn xhtml or javascript or php is available online, but the market for paper books on these subjects is still very viable.

For Poor Richard, and perhaps for my generation, reading in-depth requires a book: a real book, not a Kindle or an iPhone.  And I suspect (and hope) that the iPods distributed at the Surgeons’ convention will indeed create a “community building” environment, bolstered by some shared frustration at the limitations of the electronic documentation they receive.

Most of us will continue to embrace new technology for the advantages it offers. Poor Richard wouldn’t want to go back to the 10 pound car phone and Franklin Planner he used in the 1980s, but I also won’t give up my morning paper until it is pried forcibly from my fingers.

Anachronistically yours!

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One Response to But can you read on the darned thing?

  1. Robert says:

    Alas, Poor Richard and I suffer from the same affliction of advancing age – we need the morning news in broadsheet form. But I suspect that will be changing in the near future. The new technologies demonstrated at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, including flexible computer displays, will ease eyestrain, improve battery life, and allow for lighter computer/reading devices. All of this new technology bodes well for reading in coffee shops, on the couch, at the kitchen table, and in other, less public locales where the news of the day is digested. The new Apple iPad tablet should definitely be on Poor Richard’s shopping list – it’s a giant iPod Touch, or iPhone without the phone part.

    My own thoughts on these new devices (designed specifically for content consumption as opposed to creation) can be found here: http://bit.ly/b44wpO

    In a nutshell, I suggested that the world is ready for a new, must-have device that fits (size-wise and budget-wise) between a smartphone and notebook computer. A light weight, tablet of about 10 inches is a perfect size for reading in bed. Steve Jobs said exactly the same thing when introducing the iPad.

    Someone as erudite and eloquent as Poor Richard has probably recognized the business opportunities presented by the move to electronic information distribution. While his ink-stained brothers-in-print are kicking back for a beer after cleaning the presses, Poor Richard is probably out telling his customers how he can convert all their training manuals, product information, etc. into the proper format for this new age of e-books. Teach customers something new, even at the expense of some print business, and they will respect and trust you, and remain customers, forever.

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