So What Do I Think E-Readers Are Good For? Right Now, Not Much

Tony Comstock, one of my Twitter-pals (@tonycomstock) (a truly nice guy who is passionate about personal freedom), asked me (rhetorically) if he’d be able to read the Kama Sutra on the Apple e-reader (or any reader).

Well, I dunno. But I’m guessing that for some time to come, e-readers will only be useful for reading fiction. Mind you, I’ve never used an e-reader (can’t justify that kind of money for something with, at present, marginal utility).

But given my experience reading scholarly journals and monographs online, I  suspect it will be a loooooong time before anyone comes up with an e-reader that can be used to read scholarly stuff. By that I mean books/articles that contain footnotes or endnotes.

‘Cause I’m here to tell you that it’s mostly a total. pain. in. the. ass. to read that stuff in digital form.

As you probably know, Google and a number of university libraries launched a partnership several years ago to scan the contents of the libraries. Many of those volumes are available at the partner libraries (most notably at the University of Michigan’s online library).

I have no idea who designed the software/structure for the project, but mostly it sucks. The project calls for the actual books to be scanned, so the online versions are digital reproductions of the physical books. That’s where the problem begins. The software is designed to allow you to “open” only a few e-pages at at time.

But what if the book contains endnotes that were printed at the end of the book? Say you’re reading page 24 and it contains five endnotes, and those were printed on page 250?

You guessed it: Close the first set; call up the pages that contain the notes. Total nuisance. Tedious and time-consuming. WAY more complicated than, ya know, just opening the pages of a book and thumbing through them.

And don’t EVEN get me started on how fucked up the method is in other databases, ones created by other, different partnerships. Unless you’ve used them, you canNOT imagine how much those software designers managed to complicate the otherwise simple task of leafing through a journal.

Take my word for it: The printed page is much easier to deal with. So, for that matter, is microfilm.

Right now, for example, I need to read Good Housekeeping from c. 1890 to 1910. I started reading it online — and gave up. It takes too damn long. It’s easier for me to go to the library and read it on microfilm.

Obviously, none of this would matter if the content is designed specifically to be used on some kind of e-reading device. Eg, turn the notes into hyperlinks and create a reading device that allows the reader to jump back and forth from page to note and back. But it would also help if the program designers actually, ya know, tried USING their own programs.

Life in the digital age: Not all it’s cracked up to be.

God, where did this diatribe come from???

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