Why did Kindle boost my reading?

I used to read a fair number of books all through my life, but that started declining sometime in the last ten or so years. Then I got a Kindle, and that seemed to kick start my reading again. It seems I’m far from alone in either the decline or the Kindle effect.

I’ve been pondering why getting a Kindle might have made such a difference. A couple of theories I’ve heard don’t fit the bill for me personally.

  • The theory put forward by Alan Jacobs that he’s got used to doing things with his thumbs on mobile devices and the Kindle gives him that same thumb-twiddling fix didn’t seem particularly convincing to me. It’s not like I felt an impatience to fiddle with my fingers when I did read a paper book or magazine.

  • Many people attribute their drop in reading to a craving for incessantly checking email, social media etc, and say that the great benefit of Kindle is that you can’t do anything else with it but read. I can see how that could apply to other people, but it doesn’t apply to me very much. I’ve long since had habits of organizing myself to not be continually interrupted. For example my email isn’t set to ding me, I just go check it at certain times of day. And my mobile devices don’t even have Twitter on them. I do now read a lot on an iPad Mini as well as a Kindle, and I don’t find all the apps I have on the iPad to be particularly a distraction from reading.

Nevertheless, my book reading had dropped sharply over the years, and was revived again when I got a Kindle. So why?

Here are my speculations…

  • The new toy effect. It’s a natural thing that when you get a new “toy” you want to play with it to the fullest, put it through its paces, explore what you can do with it. When you get a new Kindle, that means grabbing a lot of diverse reading materials, and reading some of them. If you’d fallen out of the habit of regular reading, getting a Kindle is likely to get you back into the rhythm of it.

  • The snowball effect. We all know that some new toys are played with for a few days and then forgotten, while others become perennial favorites. Kindle gave a kickstart to my reading, and through that I rediscovered how rewarding and enjoyable reading was, so I kept on reading. And that continued reading was not all that dependent on the Kindle itself, because as mentioned I read a lot on iPad now as well.

  • Super-convenience. Hit the power on button, you are right in your book, where you left off. No need to dig out reading glasses, the print is a comfortable size. Everything in sync on multiple devices, so I can use whatever is to hand or in my pocket, Kindle, iPad or Android phone. (Note – this is obviously not specific to Kindle devices themselves, though you only get the syncing with Kindle apps not any other readers I’ve found.) The light weight and small size is also important, making it easier to carry around than even a paperback.

  • The next book effect. Because it’s so quick and easy to get the next volume in the book series, get other books by the author you just enjoyed, or more books on the topic that’s got you intrigued, there is less chance of the out of sight, out of mind phenomenon. Being able to take action when something is on my mind leads to follow through and a steady chain of reading. If I had to remember and wait til I went to a bookshop, or even to order online and wait for delivery, that wouldn’t happen.

  • Talking of which…. whatever happened to bookshops? For one reason and another, wandering into bookshops is a much less frequent part of my life than it used to be.

  • The sunk cost effect. Having spent a chunk of money on a device, we feel like we should get our money’s worth from it. Perhaps we also feel like we need to justify the purchase to ourselves, or others. So we read, rather than whatever else we might have done instead.

  • Commitment and identity. Buying a dedicated reading device is in part making a commitment to reading, and declaring yourself to be a reader. Perhaps it is not that a Kindle magically makes reading easier again, but rather it’s that you’ve reached a point where you have decided you mean business about getting reading again, and buying a Kindle is symbolic of that.

Some of what I’ve said above would apply to all forms of e-reading, whether on tablet or dedicated e-readers. Some would apply to all e-ink readers, but not general purpose mobile devices. And one or two points only to the Kindle and its ecosystem.

So maybe there is no one overriding reason why Kindle or e-readers in general help resuscitate comatose reading habits. But one way and another, they did for me, and I’m glad of it.


Reading in an Age of Distraction

A video well-worth watching, esp if you feel like you don’t read enough or don’t read the right things. Makes a lot of interesting points that will make you feel better about your habits.

The Q&A are fascinating too, and help make sense of the talk.

Some of the topics that come up…

  • Some graduating students have an anxiety about not reading the right things after they leave college

  • Many older people say they can’t concentrate for sustained periods any more in the age of tech

  • He encourages people to read for the pleasure of it, not for some reason of virtue

  • When you think about what great art demands from you… clearly you are not up the challenge of reading that every day… it’s like eating a 7 course French meal every day… too much

  • Most of your reading should not be “great books”

  • A few years ago he found it was becoming difficult getting through books for the first time in his life, having always been a voracious reader before

  • What helped him get out of that was when he got a Kindle

  • That doesn’t work for everyone, but we should all be hopeful that it’s possible one way or another to recover our ability to concentrate and to get back the joy of reading

Points from the Q&A…

  • Writing non-fiction using approach of storytellers

  • Reading novels vs reading non-fiction or textbooks

  • Checking things off lists as a source of distraction

  • Reading for fun is more motivating than reading dutifully

  • Audiobooks vs reading

  • Ideas of what is “serious literature” change. Shakespeare and Dickens were popular entertainment in their own time.

  • People use books to try to signal what kind of person they are. Maybe even to themselves.

Personally I can relate to the part about getting a Kindle giving a big boost to my reading. Though his theory about why that helped him doesn’t apply to me at all.

Unlike him I can also get wrapped up in an audiobook, but it does have to be a great book and a great reader. Great readers are pretty rare, so a lot of them are quite hard to listen to.

Inner Adult, Inner Child

Over on Thinking Play I discussed the pros and cons of buying a certain game in a rational fashion. That’s the logic, but the emotion was a little different. The internal conversation was a bit like parent and child, and went something like this…

Little Pasduil: I want this game!!! Can I have this game???

Adult Pasduil: Oh, what do you like about this game?

Little Paduil: Umm... urr... I don't know... it's cool... and all my friends have it...

Adult Pasduil: But you have lots of games like that already, and you never play them.

Little Pasduil: This game's different. I will play this one! I really will.

Adult Pasduil: But that's what you said about those other games!

Little Pasduil: But this time I really will!

Adult Pasduil: Hmm.

Little Pasduil: ...

Adult Pasduil: Don't you have too much work to do right now to have time for more games?

Little Pasduil: I suppose. But it's a game that's really good for fitting in around work! I'll be able to work better that way, with nice breaks!

Adult Pasduil: laughs

Little Pasduil: That's not fair.

Adult Pasduil: If you still want it when the next sale comes around, we'll see. In the mean time be a good boy and get on with your work.