Tag Archives: Screen Technology

We Used to Dump E-Trash on the Asians. Now We Dump it on Americans.

Four years ago we issued this warning about the dumping of used e-books and other computer devices. At last the issue is receiving some front page attention (see the New York Times‘s story Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles).

The only difference between then and now is that the E-Trash isn’t just being dumped on Asia’s poor. It’s now being dumped on America’s.

Below is the original posting.

Richard Curtis


When the next generation of laptops, tablets and e-readers arrives, what’s going to happen to the devices you replace?

If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline, it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors,cables and similar e-scrap. Elizabeth Rosenthal, covering the story for the New York Times, tells us that “Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa.

“There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.”

Jessika Toothman, blogging on HowStuffWorks, describes how “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV. E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold.” In fact if you want to see what this “bouquet” of poisons is doing to your fellow man, woman and child, you can view this sickening video of a Chinese e-trash village.

One device not mentioned in Toothman’s list of e-waste is e-book readers. The obvious reason is that we are still in the first generation of e-book devices (or second if you count progenitors like the Rocket Book) and there haven’t been enough readers manufactured to make them a formidable source of trash like cell phones and TVs. But when the next generation of e-book readers floods us with Kindle and Sony rivals – better, cheaper, faster, more colorful, loaded with special features and options – will we simply add them to the tons of lethal junk earmarked for miserable dumps in China, Indonesia or Africa?

Because it is still young, the e-book industry has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise its social responsibility, as we recently pointed out.Here is a three-point program to make sure the e-books business remains green.

  • First, manufacturers must be compelled to disclose the chemical components of the e-book devices they produce so that we can evaluate environmental hazards.
  • Second, Amazon, Sony, Plastic logic, Philips and other developers must develop programs for either returning their devices for safe (and monitored) disassembly and recycling or for donation to students, armed services personnel and other charitable recipients.
  • And third, The cost of recycling and safely disassembling e-books must be built into the price structure of e-books.

Right now the hidden cost of computers and other electronic devices is human suffering. It is unacceptable for the e-book industry to boast about environmental advantages while secretly sticking the helpless poor with the bill or contributing to the poisoning of the world’s water and air. If safety measures and sensible recycling add $25 or $50 to the price of their devices, that is an acceptable tradeoff. Because it would be assessed equally on all manufacturers, none would have a competitive advantage over its rivals.

We expect the e-book industry to do the right thing.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Best Flippin’ Interface of All Time

Why can’t an e-book be more like a book?  People have tried to make it look like a book, sound like a book , autograph like a book and even smell like a book (See Aerosol Makes Your Nook Smell Like Crunchy Bacon). Now someone has come up with a way to make e-books feel like books.

KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence has applied for a patent for its Smart E-Book Interface. “The interface uses the private Apple API for the page flip,” writes Kelly Hodgkins on tuaw.com, “and turns it upside down and inside out. Not only do you get a beautiful page flip like the one in iBooks, you also get page flipping that lets you scan 20 or 30 pages at a time, multiple page flips that are controlled by the speed of your finger swipe, and a way to hold your thumb on one page and flip through the book with your fingers. You can see it in action in the video below to marvel at how the interface mimics the way most people flip the pages of a softcover book.”  Below is a cool demo of the interface.

What the interface seems perfectly suited for is boring books that you just want flip through in big chunks.

Is there any e-book that incorporates all the book-like sensory experiences in a single device?  The only one we can think of is the Flopatronic Fleeber. Check it out.

Richard Curtis


Time for More Transparency for Those Glossy Screens

They say you shouldn’t look to closely at how laws and sausages are made. To that short list we have to add many modern conveniences and appliances. Among these are tablets and e-book readers. Evidence is mounting that beneath their glossy screens are disturbing tales of labor abuse, exploitation of the poor, and dumping of toxic waste on helpless communities far from our shores. People are getting hurt and sick and some of them are dying  just so that we can read conveniently on a digital device. “We’re all so dazzled by our new digital toys.” we wrote last fall, “that we’d rather not think about these tragedies.”

A number of recent exposés have penetrated the slick surface of electronic appliances and the revelations are pretty sickening. The New York Times‘s David Barboza reported on environmental abuses perpetrated by e-book and tablet manufacturers, and in particular Apple.

We have cited what happens to your Kindle, Nook, or iPad when the next generation of e-readers replaced them. “If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline,” we wrote “it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors, cables and similar e-scrap.” (See Getting Rid of E-Trash? Dump it on Asia’s Poor)

Just as we think more greenly about energy, it’s time to Think Green about our e-books.  Under pressure from investigative journalists, the secretive Apple corporation has for the first time made available its records concerning its suppliers, and the revelations confirm concerns about the company’s labor practices.  Apple audits, as Nick Winfield and Charles Duhigg reported in the New York Times, “revealed that 93 supplier facilities had records indicating that over half of workers exceeded a 60-hour weekly working limit. Apple said 108 facilities did not pay proper overtime as required by law. In 15 facilities, Apple found foreign contract workers who had paid excessive recruitment fees to labor agencies.And though Apple said it mandated changes at those suppliers, and some showed improvements, in aggregate, many types of lapses remained at general levels that have persisted for years.”

Though this was a good start, labor industry critics didn’t feel Apple’s “supplier responsibility progress report” went far enough, as some of the suppliers,  particularly subcontractors, were not easy to trace, and inadequate measures had been taken to regulate the either contractors or subcontractors. “In the last two years at companies supplying services to Apple, “the Times reporters state, “137 employees were seriously injured after cleaning iPad screens with n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis; numerous workers have committed suicide, or fallen or jumped from buildings in a manner suggesting suicide attempts; and in two separate explosions caused by dust from polishing iPad cases, four were killed and 77 injured.”

To its credit, Apple conducted many more audits in 2011 than previously, resulting in fewer violations, and joined the Fair Labor Association in an initiative to improve conditions for its workers.

Though Apple has taken the brunt of criticism, it is by no means the only manufacturer whose labor practices and environmental controls need to be examined. If similar problems are discovered at the factories where Kindles, Nooks, Sonys and other reading and computing devices are manufactured or where superannuated models are disposed of, the industry must take care of them and include the costs in their price structures even if it means that we have to pay more for our e-book readers.

Read Apple Lists Its Suppliers for 1st Time by Nick Winfield and Charles Duhigg.

Richard Curtis


America the Distracted

“Amazon, Gmail, I’ve seen all sorts of shopping, I’ve seen eBay. You name it, I’ve seen it,” says Dr. Stephen Luczycki.

What has Dr. Luczycki, a medical director in a surgical intensive care unit, seen?  He’s seen doctors, nurses and technicians in operating rooms using their smartphones and computers to text their friends, check their emails, and bid on eBay while a surgery was in progress. “This phenomenon has set off an intensifying discussion at hospitals and medical schools about a problem perhaps best described as ‘distracted doctoring’,” writes Matt Richtel in the New York Times.  “My gut feeling is lives are in danger,” says another doctor who wrote a recent article about “electronic distraction” in a medical journal.

A few days after writing about electronic distraction in the operating room, Richtel turned his attention to the growing national debate over phone addiction in automobiles, a growing cause of death, maiming and mayhem on the road. At any give moment, a study discloses,  660,000 drivers are holding phones to their ears.

These are but a few symptoms of a troubling decline in the attention span of our populace. We have become a distracted society, and what should be of deep concern to parents and educators is the effect that this collective malaise is having on our children. If adults cannot handle their media addiction, why would anyone think that children can? There is evidence that they can’t.

One significant manifestation is the glorification of computer screens as an educational tool. Gloria Mark, a University of California professor who studies human-computer interaction, notes that “people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.” 

Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, points out that “No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain….My greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).

“The child’s imagination and children’s nascent sense of probity and introspection,” Professor Wolf writes, “are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. The attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it.“

“Techno-addiction is creating a generation of students with hypertrophied thumbs and atrophied intellects,” we wrote not long ago (Digital Distractions Producing a Generation of Morons?). The Times‘s Richtel has been hammering on this theme for  some time (in particular read his cogent article Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction) As our homes and schools become more and more committed to the romance the computer screen we need to pay attention to the warnings Richtel has been marshaling.

Can our addiction to media be cured? In a Sunday New York Times editorial, “The Joy of of Quiet“, Pico Iyer writes, “The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.Maybe that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an ‘Internet sabbath’ every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation.”

Immersion into beauty, meaning and tranquility. It’s a start.

Richard Curtis


High-Tech Kids in No-Tech Schools

The jury is still out on the academic benefits of e-books, “There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” says Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University.

Researchers and psychologists report that screens create distractions for students. (See The Medium is The Screen. The Message is Distraction). And even students are far from convinced that they learn better and faster or retain as much (See Students Give E-Textbooks a Failing Grade)

These would appear to be the reasons why many parents have reservations about schools that rely on high-tech educational tools.

You would imagine that the one class of parents that embrace “screen learning” would be denizens of Silicon Valley. Yet, as the New York Times‘s Matt Richtel reports, “the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.” In fact, in the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, “the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.”

The school, one of a chain, is not an experiment but one of a chain of institutions founded on the belief that “computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.” The parents are the likes of a Google communications executive and a former employee of Intel and Microsoft who is currently working at a high-tech start-up. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous,” says one father.

But there is one category of youngster that seems to be thriving on screen learning: autistic children. “The iPad might be the difference between communicating with the outside world and being locked into a closed state,” writes John Brandon on FoxNews.com. Autistic kids respond to the devices in ways that are absolutely thrilling to parents and educators and promise breakthroughs in understanding the mysterious condition.

One three-year-old could not articulate even the most basic of needs.  Yet an iPad helped to bring him out of his mental cage. “The iPad has given us our family back,” his mother rejoiced. “It’s unlocked a new part of our son that we hadn’t seen before, and given us insight into the way he connects with his world.”

Richard Curtis


Watching Books

Watching Books

Book editors are not famous for being early adopters of technological innovation. But at long last, a decade after the introduction of the Rocket Book and Print On Demand, mainstream publishing has joined the Digital Revolution. A generation of mouse-clicking youngsters has swept into editorial cubicles and even old-timers who only a few years ago couldn’t distinguish between ROM and RAM are now fully wired. 

Manuscript Submissions via E-mail

One of the most significant reflections of editors’ comfort level with digital technology is their growing acceptance of email submissions of manuscripts. Until a couple of years ago the practice was discouraged and it still is, except for material solicited by literary agents and professional authors. But as editors recognize the competitive advantage of instant transmission of potentially hot projects, submission of emailed documents is becoming commonplace.

What do editors do with these documents? In many instances they print them. But the high cost and environmental wastefulness of printing manuscripts motivated editors to try reading books on desktop or laptop computer screens. Unfortunately, that didn’t prove very satisfactory. Though they became used to editing manuscripts on computer screens, they found that reading at length on desktop monitors or laptop screens was hard on the eyes.

Enter E-Book Readers

Happily, e-book technology matured just in time to solve these problems. Not long ago an editor told me she’d discovered that the Sony Reader was so perfectly suited to reviewing manuscript submissions that her boss purchased them for everyone on the division’s editorial staff. She simply uploads manuscript files and reads the book at home or on her commute to and from work. Recently I have heard many an editor rave about the virtues of the Sony (and to a lesser extent Amazon’s Kindle) as an editorial tool. They also speak of the “green” benefits of paperless transmission of texts. Authors and agents benefit too, thanks to savings on photocopy, printing, and mailing costs.

What’s Missing from this Book?

The blessings of submitting books by email are so obvious that it’s hard to imagine a downside. But indeed there are drawbacks and unintended side effects of this technological shift, and we need to acknowledge them. For instance, Word for Windows (the format of choice for most authors) displays typographical and grammatical errors in the form of glaring red and green underlines on text pages. This can be a serious distraction for editors hoping for a “page-flipping” experience (as your pitch promised). Conditioned as they are to spot and correct errors in manuscripts, they may find their eyes lurching from one red or green flag to another, requiring them to stop reading and ponder some solecism beckoning for attention on their screen. Too many lurches could make a critical difference in the decision to buy or reject a book. (Although current models of the Sony Reader and Kindle don’t yet employ spell- and grammar-check features, it’s a good bet they eventually will.)

Of far greater significance is the vast difference between reading text printed on paper and text displayed on a screen. The visionary Marshall McLuhan made us aware of the different temperatures of various media, and though he originally described television as a cool medium, if he were alive today I think he would agree that our society has become conditioned to think of screens as hot compared to print media. Thanks to television, the Internet, video games and computers, we have come to expect color, interactivity, instant gratification and a complete immersion of the senses from our screens.

Is That All There Is?

Reading text on a screen without sound, color, or movement, one develops the uneasy feeling that something is missing. We wonder, Is that all there is? I’m not a psychologist but it seems more than likely that we are bringing to text viewed on screens the same expectations we bring to television, movie and computer screens. Indeed, something ismissing! How can we not be disappointed – even, God help us, bored – when these blocks of words fail to stimulate the same intense response as a YouTube video? We are trying to extract a linear experience out of a nonlinear medium.

The fundamental appeal of books is their ability to transport us to the author’s world. The best books immerse us so deeply in that world that we become almost immune to distraction. But screens are breeders of distraction from the sort of commitment to thinking, reflecting, and imagining that books demand. Books are vehicles for ideas; one can set a book down and ruminate and process. Computer monitors, television sets, and e-book screens discourage reflection. Thinkers simply live in a different time zone from watchers.

It is not unreasonable to speculate that a lifetime of exposure (if not addiction) to media – indeed, to multimedia – may have compromised editors’ ability to judge books on their own merits. Rather it is tempting for editors to judge them in a context of entertaining audiovisual displays. As successive generations accustomed to being diverted by watching, rather than by reading, enter the editorial workforce, impatience with printed text is demonstrably increasing, as we can see in the sharp decline of newspapers and magazines. Books require a commitment of time and attention that we either don’t have or aren’t willing to give. The temptation to skip or skimp is strong. One editor confessed to me, “I tend to scan manuscripts on screen rather than read them the way I do a printed text.”

We must therefore ask ourselves whether instead of reading books on screen, we are watching them.

The Click of Fingernails on Keyboard

Agents pitching projects over the phone routinely hear in the background the click of fingernails on a keyboard. That’s the sound of the editor googling the author and surfing his or her website, amazon.com rankings, and BookScan sales figures. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the editor’s first exposure to a book is on a screen, he or she may unconsciously rely on extrinsic factors when making acquisition decisions? If so, it places on authors and their agents the burden of making submissions more entertaining, and that is exactly what many are doing. To make sure that the editor’s first impression is a favorable one, a growing number of authors are enhancing submissions with such colorful embellishments as author photos and audio and video clips, websites festooned with hotlinks to amazon.com pages, sales spreadsheets, screen captures, review quotes, celebrity endorsements and other flourishes designed to stimulate editors’ audiovisual responses.

It never hurts for authors to be attractive and promotable, and no one in publishing is so naïve as to deny that publishing decisions are influenced by an author’s sex appeal, charm, showmanship, and other extrinsic factors. To utilize the mighty resources of the Internet in order to play up those factors is by no means deplorable as long we keep things in proportion. Which means that, ultimately, it’s all about the book. But as the publishing industry’s drift into the rapids of show business accelerates, we should not be surprised to see computerized pyrotechnics become significant if not decisive factors in the acquisition of books.

Nor will we be surprised to discover authors writing not to be read but to be watched.

– Richard Curtis

Copyright © 2008 Richard Curtis. This article is an expansion of one that originally appeared in the summer 2008 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin under the title “Watched Any Good Books Lately?”

For an interesting piece about literacy and media, click on Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? by Mokoto Rich in the July 27, 2008 New York Times.



Kids Spending More Time in the E-Reading Nook

For some time we’ve been wringing our hands about the potentially deleterious effect of e-books on children. Our concerns were provoked by studies that the distracting nature of screen devices have a negative impact on kids’ ability to concentrate and retain information.  And the jury is still out on e-textbooks.  (See Digital Distractions Producing a Nation of Morons?)

However, there’s some promising news that as a vehicle for pure pleasure-reading, e-books are becoming a big hit with children.  We have the New York Times‘s publishing-beat reporter Julie Bosman to thank for this ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy forecast.

In E-Readers Catch Younger Eyes and Go in Backpacks Bosman quotes editors like Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books: “Adult fiction is hot, hot, hot, in e-books, and now it seems that teen fiction is getting to be hot, hot, hot.” And Jon Anderson, publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing: “Boy, a lot of kids got e-readers for Christmas…If it follows the same trend as adults, it’s the start of an upward curve.” And Matthew Shear, publisher of St. Martin’s Press: “The young adults and the teenagers are now the newest people who are beginning to experience e-readers.If they get hooked, it’s great stuff for the business.”

So, instead of asking sociologists and psychiatrists about the effects of e-books on young minds, maybe we should be asking…kids?

Richard Curtis
Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Digital Distractions Producing a Generation of Morons?

Techno-addiction is creating a generation of students with hypertrophied thumbs and  atrophied intellects. That seems to be the gist of Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction by Matt Richtel of the New York Times.  They may be dazzling multi-taskers but many cannot read, write, or calculate.

This comes as no surprise here, where we’ve posted a number of articles warning about the potentially destructive allure of screens (see below). But as the first fully wired crop of youngsters comes on stream the harmful impact of digital technology on academic performance is manifesting itself with a vengeance.

“The risk,” Richtel reports, “is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.”  He quotes Michael Rich, executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston: “Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing… The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

The article focuses on a California student described as one of his school’s brightest. His digital skills and passion for videos earned him an A in film critique.  But he also got a D+ in English and an F in Algebra II, netting him a grade point average of 2.3. It took him two months to read 43 pages of an assigned book last summer. Nor has he gotten much exercise. The senior says “I haven’t done exercise since my sophomore year.” Books? He prefers YouTube, where “you can get a whole story in six minutes. A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”  And just how well does he handle multitasking? In fact, even that’s a problem: “I’m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I’m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age. Sometimes I’ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can’t.”

Another student, who exchanges 27,000 text messages every month (!!!), reflects the same inability to focus on task: “I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

Researchers confirm what these stories tell us: “Several recent studies,” Richtel writes, “show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families.”

A teacher puts it more plainly: “It’s a catastrophe.”

Read Matt Richtel’s Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. And for additional background about the negative  impact of screen technology see Watching Books, The Medium is Screens.  The message is Distraction and More Evidence that Screens=Distraction.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The New York Times.


Will That Be Red Print on Blue Background? Green on Orange?

When people talk about e-books in color, what exactly do they mean?  Is it that the device’s frame comes in rainbow colors (like the now-defunct Cool-er) while the screen remains black and white e-ink?  Or do they mean there is a color strip at the bottom of a black and white screen  – The Nook – displaying colorful thumbnails of book covers?

Or is it that the black print will be replaced by yellow or green or blue or red ink and the  background will be red or blue or green or yellow?

That question isn’t answered, or even really raised, in an article by Anne Eisenberg in the New York Times updating us on developments in color e-books  Is the question so big no one knows how to articulate it?  Or is it such a fundamental assumption that we don’t need to articulate it at all?

You would think that with some 11 million boringly monochromatic e-book readers sold this year and 15 million projected for 2011, the industry would feel that black and white ain’t broken and there’s no need to fix it. And we’re not aware of any plans afoot for major players like Amazon/Kindle and Barnes & Noble/Nook to introduce color. But “The popularity of the Apple iPad, on which people can read books, surf the Internet, watch videos and enjoy thousands of apps — all in full color — has shaken up the market,” writes Eisenberg.

Transforming e-readers from b&w to color is far from a mere wave of a wand.  The beauty of e-ink is its minimal power demands, and though Kindles, Sonys and Nooks can’t be read in the dark without a lamp, neither do they suck electric juice like backlit devices (the iPad) with LCD screens.  And there are other advantages to boring old e-ink. It reduces the weight of e-readers, and reduces blinding glare in strong sunlight.

But this still begs the question, which we repeat: do people want to read colored words on colored backgrounds?  Did you say no?  Are you sure?  Is it that long since you read a children’s book?

We grow up reading colored words on colored backgrounds.  We may feel we “graduate” to black and white when we grow up but how locked into b&w are we, really?  Modern readers are conditioned to read blue ink for Internet links, and red ink for editorial comments on manuscripts and legal documents.  Are we ready for a steady diet of colored words?

You may find out as the next generation of e-book screen technology slouches in your direction.  Read about it in Reading E-Books in All the Colors of the Rainbow.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting conducted by the New York Times.


Another Study Suggests Screen Reading Inferior to Book Larnin’

Another study confirms our suspicions that reading books on computer or e-book screens compromises learning and retention. Experiments with children and college students have pointed to the conclusion that screen media are more distracting than their paper counterparts.

Now a study conducted by product development consultancy Nielsen Norman Group has quantified these conjectures. Participants were asked to read some stories by Ernest Hemingway in printed form and on a variety of e-reading devices: an iPad, a Kindle and a desktop PC.

The results, as reported by Lauren Indvik of Mashable, were eye-opening: reading speeds were 6.2% slower on the iPad and 10.7% on the Kindle. “Participants also complained about the weight of the iPad and the Kindle’s weak contrast,” Indvik writes.  Comprehension suffered, too, especially on the PC, where readers complained that it “reminded readers of work.”

The sampling was modest – 24 participants  (Indvik says that “10 is about average for a usability survey”) – and is far from conclusive. But the indications are ominous. “I can see universities and businesses taking less kindly to e-readers if further studies prove that they handicap reading speed,” says Indvik. This comes just as schools and governments consider switching from paper to e-textbooks. See Hasta La Vista, Textbooks.

For further reading see Watching Books, The Medium is Screens. The Message is Distraction, More Evidence that Screens=Distraction, and Students Give E-Textbooks Failing Grade).

Richard Curtis