Archive for July, 2009

Are e-readers too unemotional?

July 14, 2009

We’ve been experimenting with a Sony e-book reader in the office for the last couple of months. So I was interested to read a comment piece by Peter Crawshaw in the Bookseller magazine about them as they finally seem to be taking off, especially in the States, following innumerable false starts over the years.

He refers to a piece of analysis from Entertainment Media Research which looks at how emotionally engaging books are compared to e-readers. In this context, emotional engagement is the process by which we get hooked into our reading material and swept away into another world. The research shows that while people view books as one of the most emotionally engaging entertainment vehicles, e-books are seen as the least.

Crawshaw suggests two issues with e-readers. One is simply that the technology gets in the way. There is something timelessly effortless about holding a book and automatically turning pages as you read. Somehow, the clicking of little buttons on the side of your Sony or Amazon Kindle doesn’t have this automatic quality. Personally, my experience is that the tiny delay while the page of text is redrawn by the reader does interrupt the flow. Of course this may change as we become use to such devices and they become slicker.

A more important point he makes, I think, is the tendency for e-books to be interactive, with added video snippets and links to click. All this he argues may be great for certain types of content (for example learning material), but is less so for the delicate flow of good story. Crawshaw wonders whether traditional publishers will begin to alter their content to fit the expectations of a more interactive way of reading, and thereby lose what he calls “the wonder of an unhurried story.”


Silence of the Chips

July 9, 2009

If you’re thinking deep-fried slithers of Maris Pipers and a monastic vow of silence, or a cheap re-make of the Anthony Hopkins/Jodie Foster blockbuster, then this piece is not for you.

The chips in question are RFID chips, which the EU wants to sprinkle liberally in our urban environment in order to kick-start a world-leading tech industry (a very rough summary). However, there’s been such a kafuffle over the potential for privacy invasion that the EU now wants to start a debate about whether or not people should have the right to ‘disconnect’ from this networked environment.

The problem is that in this vision of the future there will be perhaps 70 billion Internet-enabled, computer-like devices plus countless other everyday physical objects and consumables that have been tagged with RFID. In effect we will be surrounded by a kind of permanent, ‘always-on’ computational fabric woven into our physical surroundings. In a recently announced action plan, the EU poses the question of what rights we should have to be able to disconnect from this networked environment, which they call the ‘right to silence of the chips’.

The action plan is very sketchy on details of what such a right might consist of. Would it, for example, apply permanently or just for certain periods of time? How will we be reassured that we have genuinely been ‘disconnected’? When the chips are down, what do you think they’ll put first – big business or the right to privacy?