The iPhone Changed My Reading Habits

May 10, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The threshold between books and electronic media has always interested me, and I’ve written about it often.  Now that I’ve had an iPhone for about three months, I thought I would weigh in on fantasy versus reality.

In my younger days, I was a Luddite.  A cell phone only made its way into my life because a friend convinced me to take over his contract (a dumb move and one I regretted).  Words can hardly express how much I hated having a cell phone.  I had a bad enough time with voice mail as it was; now people could make a noise inside my purse any time they felt like it.  I had a pretty bad track record for returning phone calls, or even answering the phone, as it was usually zipped inside my purse and stuck on the top shelf of the coat closet.

E-mail was even worse.  I’ve had the same address for over 15 years, and at no point could I ever be said to be “caught up.”  I would regularly get e-mail from various people asking if I was still alive.  A two-month turnaround meant I really liked you and felt highly motivated to write back.

During this period, a book was always at my side.  There were generally books in every room of my house, except the bathroom, unless I was soaking in the tub.  I might leave the house without my wallet, or lose my day planner, hat, gloves, or umbrella, but no way was I leaving the house without literature.  I am one of those people who loves the smell of printed books.  As a rule, I don’t check luggage when I travel, but the heavier of my two carry-on bags is filled with books, not clothes.  I have been known to buy books when there was no food in the house.  I often dream in text.  I fit the profile of a print media enthusiast in every particular.

Enter the iPhone.  The only event in my life to have surprised me more than my incipient smartphone fetish was my sudden passion for distance running.  I had hopes that this awkwardly shaped, expensive object would help me become a reliable communicator; I knew my budding career depended on this.  I gave it a try, with about the same attitude that many people hold toward their first bite of kale.

I was off and running almost instantaneously.  Suddenly I could answer research questions the moment they crossed my mind.  I could delete junk e-mail instantaneously.  I could see who left a voice mail and choose to delete the ones I knew were spam.  Within days I had no scroll bar in my e-mail inbox.  I haven’t been haunted by a single voice mail I can’t make myself play.  In fact I just found myself responding to an e-mail on my phone while standing in front of my desktop computer.  This is not the first time that’s happened.

Naturally, my reading habits have changed in response to the presence of a helpful genie in my pocket.  In January, I was maxed out on the 30 books I am allowed from the public library.  There are five left, and my 20-slot holds list is almost empty.  I have shipped off fully half the contents of my bookcase to and I have over $100 in unused credit.

I just love reading on my iPhone.  I can hold it in one hand while I eat.  I can read and relax, knowing I am not missing any key calls or messages.  I don’t have to worry about due dates.  I have even started to relax about running out of things to read, or bringing a book in the car.  Holding a printed book has started to seem unnecessary, ungainly, unwieldy.  The printed page is prone to tears and stains.  (Look, iambic pentameter!)

One thing that has changed is that I listen to audio books even more than before.  I started with a defunct old CD player, and the scratched, skipping audio books I could check out from the library.  When I upgraded to an iPod, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  With my iPhone came a Bluetooth headset that will actually stay put in my mutant, tiny ears.  (A Verizon sales rep actually said to my face, “You are a mutant,” after trying and failing to find a headset that would stay in place on me).  No longer were my headphone cords snagging on doorknobs or getting tied into macrame in my pocket.  Now I could run without the earpiece popping out.  I can even walk around the house with no earphones at all, simply using the speaker.  Coupled with the ready availability of the MapMyRun app and my desire to impress my Facebook friends, this improved audio book experience has upped my running miles considerably.  I even do more housework.

I do read actual books on my iPhone.  I love reading in bed at night, because I don’t have to juggle a book light any more.  My poor long-suffering husband has been flashed numerous times by my book light falling over and shining into his face.  There are no more lost bookmarks in the sheets.  And no more ink stains, as I can note down an idea without scrambling for a pen and then falling asleep on it.

What has changed the most is that I read the news even more obsessively than I did before.  News aggregators make this so easy – possibly too easy.  I always liked reading the news online, because it led to more follow-up and research on my part.  One advantage with the phone is that advertisements can be avoided.  Another is that it’s possible to read magazine articles without a subscription.  This is bound to change, as I’m sure those two conditions are giving Madison Avenue a real headache.

People have asked, “How do you read on that tiny screen?”  This could be a real issue for those with vision problems, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.  It’s bound to be a question of personal preference.  My prediction is that technology will (soon) advance to the point when it’s not necessary to read from a screen at all; the contents will appear as a hologram that can be shaped and sized at will.  This might be something projected from the device, or it might appear on glasses or a contact lens.

Since the iPhone got into my pocket, I have found myself reading more – and interacting with the screen more.  The dark side of this is that I’ve become one of Those People.  I keep everything set on ‘silent’ and most notifications turned off, but my husband accuses my phone of “farting” when it vibrates.  “Silent” still means it can be heard across the room by sensitive people.  It’s never more than a foot away (unless I am in the shower, and if it was waterproof I’d no doubt take it in there too).  It encourages a greater connection to those who are constantly wired, perhaps to the detriment of friendships with those who are phone- or e-mail-only.  For many, it appears to be too tempting to disrupt dinners, blather in public spaces, or risk the lives of thousands by driving and texting.

Despite these issues, smart phones are here to stay, at least until they are outmoded by something even more mind-blowing.  E-book readers report increased reading, and once the publishing industry finds a way to harness this, a fountain of dollars is going to start spouting somewhere.  If you’ve found yourself holding out in favor of paper books, be prepared to change your tune in the next five or ten years.  If it could happen to me, it can happen to you.

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