Pixels and Paper

Technology has influenced the way we do a lot of things today. Like the way we communicate for example, to the way we shop or the way we get our news and information and so on. Some of these technological “influences” have been good and some… not-so-good but one thing that is truly positive, is technology’s impact on the reading culture.

A colleague wrote an article on how Africans have always been readers and he made references to how the Internet has made African literature accessible to everyone and how it has been pushed beyond African boarders as well. But I’ll be focusing on how Internet enabled devices are putting books in the hands of Africans and it’s impact on how we read.

With the advancement of mobile technology such as phones and tablets, eBooks have become increasingly popular and have given us a safe alternative to regular Paper Books. Pioneered by Michael Hart, Electronic Literacy has been existing since the 1970’s and over the last decade or so, is becoming a reading standard. Due to easy access, book enthusiasts around the continent now have access to multi-cultural books and can easily connect with their favourite writers. Schools are now developing e-Libraries to give students easy access to books and resources. Basically, the Digital Age is no enemy of the reading culture. Instead technology seems to aid how we read and has brought a couple of advantages over Paper Books in the process. Here are some of the ways:

  • Privacy: Just like with music or movies, people tend to have different tastes when it comes to books. I could love horror books and still enjoy romantic novels. So, to prevent judgmental looks or comments when in public because I’m reading something from Joan Wolfe on a bus, it would be more preferable that I read my stuff on my phone or an eBook reader such as Kindle. That way, nobody knows what I’m reading and can easily prevent unwanted attention or conversations.
  • Control Over What You Read: When reading with a device, we have the ability to control and adjust it’s presentation to our visual preference. We can increase or decrease the font, adjust the brightness or contrast, quickly look up a word online or even bookmark a page and resume it on another device seamlessly.
  • Accessibility: Alot of platforms have been created to give readers easy access to books. Today, readers can buy the eBook (popularly in ePub or PDF formats) of their favourite book and keep if forever. Also readers can read and even download books online for free or read them online for a monthly subscription, all depending on the platform. Popular ones include Amazon’s Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, Free eBooks.net and African-centric platforms like Brittle Paper and Okada Books.
  • Take Your Books Anywhere: Whether you’re travelling, commuting back home or heading to school, you  can easily carry dozens of books on a single device without the extra load like you would with regular paper books. Should we ever run out of storage on our preferred device, these books can be sent to our online cloud storage to free up space and re-downloaded whenever we need them. Although, storage services like Google Drive can allow us read the uploaded eBooks within the Drive app without you necessarily downloading the book on our device.
  • They Are Safer: Unlike Paper Books, eBooks are not exactly prone to water and oil spills. They also can’t be burned or torn. Since they are digital, they can be duplicated multiple times and kept on different storage mediums. These mediums could include online storages (as discussed above) to flash drives or memory cards for future purposes.

This  is not to say that eBooks are better than Paper Books though. Readers around the world still prefer the feel and smell of Paper Books over eBooks. Also, Paper Books help readers know exactly how far they’ve gone with a book, creating a sense of pride and satisfaction (trust me, I know that feeling). Readers can also comfortably read a book in public without really worrying about theft as opposed to reading on a smartphone or on an eBook reader.

Finally, even though reading through a screen puts us in charge of what we’re reading, it can have negative effects on our health; particularly on our eyes. Our digital devices emit Blue Light which is a short, high-energy light that’s visible to the human eye. It’s short wavelength makes it powerful and the fact that it’s visible makes it dangerous to our eyes. It therefore induces headaches, blurry visions, focusing difficulty and so on.

Luckily, we now have innovations that can suppress Blue Light. For example, Apple’s TrueTone display allows your iPad (or other Apple devices) adjust the display based on colour of your environment. There are also mobile apps available to help reduce Blue Light emitted from our devices. We can as well read off Amazon’s Kindle or a Nook which makes reading eBooks a bit like traditional books.

The Nook and Kindle.

In the end though, you could argue that what matters is that we are all reading and not really how we are reading. eBooks are here to stay and Paper Books aren’t going anywhere soon. We can enjoy the best of both worlds without compromise. So, it’s down to us now to keep the reading culture alive because we have all we need to make sure the fire never burns out. All thanks to the amazing Writers out there doing great things and technology by our side.

Adeshola Ogunleye

Grown man in a young body but I use that to my advantage.

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