The Social Dilemma of E-Reading


Comment in the New Yorker Book Bench blog about the article How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write

Excerpt from comment: Johnson also ignores a more pressing obstacle for e-books: unattractiveness. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: books are sexy; electronic reading devices are not. As Michael Tamblyn, of BookNet, put it, “No one holding a Kindle at Starbucks has ever been asked for their phone number.” Certainly, the Kindle provokes stares—what a curious gadget!—but that guy reading an electronic device at a restaurant by himself? He just looks busy. The same guy reading a crumbly paperback? Attractive and approachable. Maybe you can see what he’s reading—that new play by Yasmina Reza, say. It’s a clue to your compatibility, and a means of striking up a conversation.


What if you are not reading Yasmina Reza? Format is not the issue. Content is the issue. Get a paper copy of Rush Limbaugh's book See, I Told You So and see how it works picking up the ladies.

Kindle 3.0 will utilize the latest in hooking-up technology. With a simple click on the Kindle's settings, each person can broadcast their current book list to other Kindle users. Choose to broadcast current or past titles, book ratings, reading lists, blood type, zodiac sign, clean-shaven or natural, furry or foodie, etc. Only available to Kindle owners.

And paperbacks are unsanitary; who knows where they've been. But the newest Kindle is fashioned from antimicrobial plastics.

Aren't you glad you own a Kindle?

I get approached all the time when I have my ereader. I've never talked to more strangers in my life than when I'm reading on the streetcar or standing in line. People ask, "do mind if I ask what that is?" and then I give them the 60 second ereader orientation speech. (I got to do it again an hour ago while waiting for my lunch in the cafeteria, as a matter of fact.) It's just as much an icebreaker as a beat up novel is.

Also, there's more of a chance of a book in common when you've got 80+ titles to choose from!


I think with an e-reader though that as they catch on it will be less of an icebreaker because people will know what the gadget is. Do you think once most people know what it is that they will stop you and ask what you are reading on there? Do people do this already?

I must say I agree with you...

I only ever asked once, one of my co-workers had one. He let me try it out, then after a few minutes I got bored and I put it down.

I don't need one, I don't want one.... As I can not see what a person is reading from the cover, I'm not going to walk up and ask.... If I see them with a book I have read or I am wanting to read, I'll be more apt to ask about it.

Also, I have a habit of giving the book I am reading away if it is a trade or mass market paperback, if someone is really interested in it. I would so not do that if it was an e-reader.....Nope, Not gonna share, it's Mines, ALL Mines!


Yeah I especially agree with the last thing you mention which of course brings up the "access vs. ownership" debate. With a corporeal book I can actually let people borrow mine or give it away which is not true as far as I understand with the e-readers. It sounds like you can allow access to like 5 other kindles or something, but after that you can't.

I really don't want to spend money on "books" that I don't really own at the end of day. Why pay so much money just to access something?

You could solve that problem by either not buying a Kindle or backing up your files to your computer. Then they're "yours." (That said, if I had the option I probably wouldn't go with a Kindle anyway. They're far too restrictive.)

I've bought some books from an online store for my Sony ereader. I got them as a pdf file which reads fine on the reader. Then later I emailed the file to a friend of mine saying, "I think you'll really love this author but I can't lend you a book! Swear you won't pass this on to anyone else and delete it when you're done!" Yeah, I probably wasn't supposed to do that but I wouldn't lend a book to a friend that I didn't trust to take care of it, so I don't have a problem asking them to play nice with the book file.

I'm buying books in two formats right now: paper for my very favorite authors, electronic for "throwaway" books. For me the decision to get an ereader was all about space. I had to move twice in two years and I got tired of getting rid of books because I had no room for more shelves. I had stopped buying new books altogether because I hated giving them all away, which is more depressing than a format shift!

All a matter of perspective, I guess. :)


I purchase from the library book sale...they are no more than $2 (hardcover), $1 (trade), 3=$1 9mass market) each. Well...let me be even more honest....I buy all my books used...

But if I know I'm not going to keep it long term, I borrow it from the library......If it's a keeper, then I search the book sale or online.


I can't buy books like that.... I have impulse control problems and a severe lack of patience. When I want a book I want it NOW! :)

I also have a part time job at a bookstore that I keep purely for the 30% staff discount and the perk of being able to borrow books I don't want to spend cash on to read. It's a lot easier to buy books that way, hence my growing lack of space. (I also have a serious manga addiction and they fill the shelves faster than the regular books do.) Ebooks worked out to the same amount of $$ so I don't feel too badly about buying them, plus I've found a few places online to get legit free books.

I really think the choice about whether or not to go for ebooks is based on your book buying habits rather than your reading habits. Obviously it'd be silly and more expensive for you to make a switch like that, but less so for someone like me. I think I often come across as pushing ereaders, but I really don't feel that it's a product for everyone. I just run into a lot of people online (not you - usually it's people commenting at the Globe and Mail) that are completely dismissive of a different way of reading (like I somehow love books less because I don't need them to be printed on paper to be enjoyable) and I always like to argue for an underdog. :)


People I know will ask, but I think I'm generally very unapproachable when I'm in the middle of a book. I've noticed people staring at a book/graphic novel I'm in the middle of, but I can count on one hand the number of times anyone has tried to talk to me about it. I think I give off a go-AWAY-I'm-reading!!! vibe. :)

(And considering that I seem to be the official direction-giver of downtown Toronto, as well as subway guide, substitute store clerk, restaurant critic, etc etc I'm not a person that other people hesitate to talk to normally.)

I think the approach will change somewhat. Instead of walking up to a stranger and saying, "I loved/hated that book" people will instead say, "You look like you love/hate that book - what are you reading?" Not something I could do, but I know people who do it now.

I'm just waiting for the novelty of mine to wear off enough so that my friends will stop teasing me when they see me reading a "real" book... :)


Kindles can be sexy. Just buy a skin for yours.

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