Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I've Been Converted!

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

We're currently in the transition where a distinction is being made between books printed on paper and books printed electronically. Suffice to say, the current prevailing paradigm is that the former is superior to the latter (and in fact, more than a few people regard themselves as "published" only when they have a print publication credit to their name as opposed to an online one). As a writer, I very much agree with that sentiment, print being tangible evidence I can show my parents and peers that hey, I'm a writer! As a reader though, my habits have been changing. While I'm fortunate enough to surround myself with friends who love reading books, that's not the case with everyone. Some people eschew books in favor of other print materials be it magazines, broadsheets, or blogs and while some might proclaim that as the death of reading fiction, that's not necessarily the case as some short fiction do turn up in mainstream magazines. Lately, I've been spending more and more hours staring at the computer screen than reading print, mainly because there's a lot of work-related tasks that must be done on the computer. Checking email, blog surfing, and checking my Friendster/Multiply/Facebook if I had a social network account is easily part of my daily routine, perhaps to the point that I feel I missed something if I don't do so. My main point is that I've grown accustomed to reading on a computer screen.

I don't mean to sound apologetic about it and in fact, that's an advantage. I mean some people are able to consume text in print voraciously but when it comes to all things electronic, they hesitate. I'm someone who can do both! But staying true to my title, it's more than just that. Often, there are days when I'm easily motivated to turn on the computer and read text from the computer screen, but feel that opening my bag and picking up the book that's stored there too much of a hassle. It's true, I'm favoring electronic text over printed material! There are a couple of factors which I attribute to this. First and foremost, I've grown accustomed to using the computer. Computer screens are the new TV! But unlike the complaints hurled by parents and authority figures with regards to television, I can easily claim that I'm using the computer because it's necessary for work or that it's educational. Second, I can multitask when I'm using the computer. For example, my hands are free and the computer screen is holding itself upright on its own. Contrary to popular belief, I do eat. And eating while reading is something I like to do but isn't optimal when you're reading a paperback. Not only do I need both hands to turn the pages, I'm also afraid I'll smudge and ruin the book with my stained fingers. A computer keyboard and mouse can easily be cleaned but the same can't be said for print books. The third reason is that it honestly takes less effort to read from a computer. I mean the text is already there and the screen is well-lit. I don't know about you but I find flicking a computer switch much easier than standing up, going to where my book is shelved, picking it up, and then finding a comfortable seat or position to read.

Having said that, I'm not yet a traitor to the previous paradigm. In Lit Crit, we receive short stories in electronic format and while most people opt to print the stories and then read them, I personally read them from the screen. That's for short stories and novellas though and I have yet to read an entire novel from the computer screen. Of course the beauty of reading is that if you're already engrossed, all the discomforts and limitations cease to matter and that very much applies whether I'm reading an eBook or an actual print book. And at the end of the day, I think that's what matters the most. One can easily spend hours reading blogs and navigating through social networks. It's easily as engrossing as getting lost in a novel although some might question the "literariness" of such sites. Still, more than a few short stories, poetry, and essays have been posted on the 'net and eBooks (everything from the Bible to canon to mainstream publications) are readily available for download. I don't know about you but surfing Amazon from the comforts of my home is much more convenient than scheduling a trip to Bonifacio High Street to visit the massive Fully Booked bookstore and then spending an additional hour looking for a particular book--unless it is my intent to kill time (and book hunting has its own separate pleasures). For me, anything that facilitates and encourage reading is good.

As a writer though, online books are a great resource. Navigating through computer tabs is much more preferred than keeping a pile of books on my side, bookmarking entries and fearing that I'll eventually crease their pages from the wear and tear. This is probably most evident when I'm creating characters/monsters for my tabletop RPG games where I'm using more than one book. In fact, one of the advantages is that I can easily copy/paste material (or site them as a source for those of you writing term papers) into my document. I can easily juggle several books and I don't miss the days when there's several encyclopedias on my lap yet I'm only using them one at a time.

I haven't made the big leap yet though when it comes to the next level of eBook reading, which is the portable eBook readers. I have yet to find a device which satisfies my PDF needs and at a budget I can afford. For now, I'll have to settle for good old print books. Perhaps one big advantage of print books is that they aren't so ubiquitous. When people see me reading a book, they get curious and ask me what book I'm reading and it's an excuse to promote my agenda of reading. The same can't be said when they see you using the computer though. Besides, the former makes me look smarter even if that's not necessarily true.

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