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Reading books in the age of technology — how electronic resources are changing the way we consume stories

Reading books in the age of technology — how electronic resources are changing the way we consume stories

So many books, so little time

Text: Tammy Chan


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Image: Sylvia Liu

As a librarian and Ketua NILAM (yes, that reading programme) throughout my high school years, books were definitely a big part of my life growing up. Sadly, I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t bought a physical book in almost three years. What happened?

E-books. E-books happened.

I remember begging my parents to let me visit our local second-hand bookstore above the Chowrasta Market in Penang every Sunday. I remember spending hours browsing through towers and towers of books before finally picking two I could buy with the pocket money I saved up. I remember waking up on Christmas morning, unwrapping my presents and being so happy that I had new books to read.

I remember making my mum queue up to buy the newly released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when she was in the US. I remember my classmates joking about how I wouldn't even realise if the school burned down because I was too engrossed in a chapter. I remember being told at the age of six that I needed to start wearing glasses because I had spent too much time reading in the dark.

No doubt do I still walk into bookstores today, but instead of buying the titles I find interesting on the shelf, I'd search for them online and purchase an electronic version of it when I get home. So why would someone like me, who lives for the sensory experience of a freshly unwrapped book, go from paper to digital, you ask? Well, here's your answer.

They don't take any space and are available immediately

Reading Books VS Ebooks

I was an anti-e-reader for the longest time. It wasn't until having to move overseas (to complete my degree) and realising that I could not bring all my books with me did I force myself to make the switch.

With e-books, I can start or continue reading whenever I want, wherever I am as long as I have my electronic device with me. I can instantly purchase a book I'm interested in instead of having to visit every single store in the country in hopes that they carry the international title I'm looking for. The disappointment I feel every time I'm told that "it's not available in Malaysia" is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

With a portable e-reader, I can not only carry my own library with me wherever I go, I can also rest well knowing that I'm not hoarding more books than I can finish reading. Besides that, you can actually save some money as electronic versions of new releases usually cost cheaper. Yes, one might argue that having to purchase an e-reading device is already expensive in the first place, but honestly, in this day and age where there's an app for everything, all you need is your smartphone.

 

Don't own an actual e-reading device? No problem!

Just to clarify, I'm not saying you MUST read on your phone. Since it all boils down to personal preferences like whether you're okay with a small screen size or whether you're willing to fork out hundreds (or thousands) of ringgit on a Kindle, it's a decision that you should take time to think through.

However, in the event you do decide to turn your smartphone into a pocket reader, rest assured that there are plenty of apps that can help you do so.

The usual Google Play Books and Apple Books app aside, here are some other options to consider:

They all work fairly the same way in the sense that you're given the option to change font sizes, background colours, type notes, leave a bookmark or create customised collections in your own virtual library. That said, always remember the number one rule when reading on your smartphone: turn on night mode or wear blue light blocking glasses to reduce eye strain.

 

No time? Let your ears do the reading instead.

While audiobooks are something I've yet had the chance to explore, it's definitely a medium you should look into if you can never find the time to sit down and read.

There is an ongoing debate to whether it's a lazy alternative, but research has proven that there are plenty of benefits to listening. Not only are audiobooks able to improve our speaking accuracy and fluency, it is said to also help improve our focus and attention span.

Fun fact: According to a report published in February 2019 by The Association of American Publishers, Audiobooks, especially downloaded ones, have seen quite the rise in digital publishing. AAP even noted that the increase was by 37.1%, an additional US$127.1 million since 2017!

Interested to try it out? Check out these apps below:

Sounds like a pretty solid way to make good use of our time in traffic jams don't you think?

 

Still prefer to stay old-school?

I totally understand as even I sometimes feel the nostalgia of holding a paperback novel in my hands. Here's a hint: if you're frustrated from never being able to find the books you want in our local stores but not willing to take up e-reading or listening, try getting your reads from Book Depository.

This UK-based online book seller was recently introduced to me and one of the reasons why I'm holding on to it is because it houses any book you can possibly think of and free shipping (and fast delivery) is provided to Malaysia! I still have a bunch of eBooks lined up in my Apple Books app, but you'd be damn right if I'm placing orders on this website immediately once I'm done with those.

"And so I told them - I care that you read, not how you read."
— The Bookshop Strikes Back by Ann Patchett

In summary, while I do think electronic books have the ability to take over, I don't think they will. As at the end of the day, there'll always be people who would prefer a solid book in their hands because it's an irreplaceable experience. But who's to know, both forms might just end up co-existing in the future.

Tell us, what's your preferred reading experience?

Traditional paper books FTW!
Vote
Traditional paper books FTW!
I'm an eBook convert!
Vote
I'm an eBook convert!
Audiobooks are my jam!
Vote
Audiobooks are my jam!

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