The Siren Song of Tablet Distraction Lures Readers to Their Doom

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Can You Resist Temptation? Probably Not

We don’t need the New York Times to confirm something we’ve been saying for years but it’s always nice to be validated. Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel, writing in that august journal, describe growing concern that tablet computers have too many distractions to keep readers immersed in books they are reading on those devices.

We’ve been saying so for years, but now it’s official. “People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad,” the reporters write, “are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.” “’The tablet is like a temptress,’” said a Forrester Research analyst, citing such seductions as YouTube videos and popup email alerts. In response to a Forrester survey, only 31 percent of publishers “believed iPads and similar tablets were the ideal e-reading platform.”

Three years ago we expressed concern about the allure of tablets. A former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, wrote that “people read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20-30 percent… Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read.”

Her comments are particularly true for children. 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.” But “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).” (See The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction.

Professor Gloria Mark, deeply concerned about the distractions engendered by screen media, expressed her own preference: “I’d much rather curl up in an easy chair with a paper book. It’s not only an escape into a world of literature but it’s an escape from my digital devices.”

Richard Curtis

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Richard Curtis

About Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a leading New York literary agent (www.curtisagency.com) who foresaw the Digital Book Revolution and launched an e-book publishing company early in 2000. E-Reads (www.ereads.com) is one of the foremost independent e-book publishers in the industry, specializing in reprints of genre fiction by leading authors in their fields. Curtis is also a well-known authors advocate, author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction including several books about the publishing industry, and prolific blogger – see his hundreds of other blog posts here.

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