Monthly Archives: November 2015

Print Books or E-Books: Understanding Leisure Reading Preferences

This past weekend, my husband’s family held the annual “Christmas in November” celebration before his parents head south to avoid the often less-than-pleasant Canadian winter. We draw names and share our “wish list” with the family member who has our name. I always have books and magazines on my list and am always so thrilled when I receive those items. I instantly start flipping through the pages and my heart fills with joy. This weekend, during this moment of joy, I noticed myself thinking, “I hope there are always print copies of books”. Reading is one of the leisure activities I greatly enjoy and I’m learning that I prefer to read print copies of my leisure reading materials. What about you? Are you someone who prefers a hard copy book or magazine or do you prefer the digital versions?

e-reader versus book

Innovation in the Formats of Reading Material

My effort to understand my own attraction to print books, I began with reading about what researchers have called the “innovation” in reading.

In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen various innovations that have allowed us to access reading materials in different ways. In the early 1980s, my parents made the decision to get an encyclopedia set which was a tremendous investment at the time. By the late 1990s, I was seeing digital versions of encyclopedias in the reference section of book stores meaning you could access large volumes of information by putting discs in your computer. Definitely a welcomed innovation as far as I was concerned. Easier to find information. Easier to store. Much less expensive. I was in favour.

As an academic, I have gone from spending time and money photocopying journal articles or book chapters to being able to save downloaded PDF copies of the material I need to my personal computer. I could probably get rid of one of my filing cabinet which was originally intended to hold all these resources I would need to access and refer to. Paper, time, money, and space have all been saved as a result of the digital access to scholarly articles and books. Again, I have been in favour of the innovation and the resulting outcomes.

In the realm of leisure reading, we’ve seen the development and improvement of e-readers. In Canada, the Kindle (Amazon) and the Kobo (Indigo) have been the most popular e-readers and there have been a few “generations” of these devices each with improved and added features designed to enhance the reading experience. Apps on tablets (e.g., iPad) also allow us to read books purchased or borrowed from the library. Amazon has reported that Kindle users buy three times more books than they did before they had owned the Kindle (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2010) and the rapidly growing e-book market (Indvik, 2010) is expected to see demand for e-books continue to stay strong. Even magazines have become available through tablet apps. A year ago, I subscribed to Next Issue which offers me access, on my iPad, to over 150 magazines – about 10 which I would, on rotation, “treat” myself to each month – for $9.99/month plus tax.

Advantages of Digital Format of Leisure Reading Material

I understand there are some obvious advantages of the digital options for books and magazines. Cost is certainly one – I would never spend the money for 10 of my favourite magazines each month let alone the 150+ that I can access monthly through Next Issue for the cost equivalent of two magazines a month. For those who have storage or clutter issues (e.g., lack of bookshelf space; small living quarters) or subscribe to a minimalist lifestyle, there are clear advantages to books being stored on a tablet or e-reader. For those, like my husband, who have vision problems, e-readers offer options for larger print and contrast options such as reading white type on black background. As Joe Queenan pointed out in his Wall Street Journal piece, if you don’t want others to know what book you’re reading (e.g., Fifty Shades of Grey or a self-help book), e-readers may allow you the privacy you’re looking for. Travellers can take multiple books or magazines on vacation without weighing down their suitcase (Hupfeld, Sellen, O’Hara, & Rodden, 2013). In some cases, e-books and digital magazine issues offer readers a more interactive format and supplementary materials (e.g., magazines with links to “how to” videos or books with links to a dictionary; Richardson & Mahmood, 2012). E-books and digital magazines also offer convenient and immediate access – no need to travel to a bookstore or wait for your book to arrive in the mail (Culén & Gasparini, 2011).

For these reasons, many people view e-books as a better modality for reading and have adopted e-readers as their primary or sole format for reading books and magazines. However, as Josh Catone states in his article, “Why Printed Books Will Never Die”, “e-books are not simply a better format replacing an inferior one; they offer a wholly different experience”.

The Attraction to Print Books

Despite my initial excitement about the advantages of e-books and digital magazine such as the lower cost and less “stuff” in the house, I still find myself longing for print forms of my leisure reading material. This realization made me curious to understand why this might be and to hunt down some of the existing research on reading books versus e-readers when reading is a leisure experience.

Print books as offering a multi-sensory experience. It is likely that I’m drawn to buy and keep print books because I like the physical object of a book. Research has shown that people who prefer books like the feel of books, the smell of books especially those from the library or used book store, and the look of book cover and/or spin (Culén & Gasparini, 2011). I would say that I’m primarily drawn to the content of books, especially in the case of non-fiction, and I do recognize the same content can be accessed through an e-book. However, I often find myself drawn to the cover of a book – to its beauty or the feeling it evokes when I look at it. In those cases, being able to put it on my shelf and look at it whenever I wish becomes important. In fact, I put favorite books on a shelf that I walk by multiple times a day – simply because I enjoy the look of the spines of the books.

Permanence. The permanence of a physical book is another reason that people seem to choose print over e-books (Catone, 2011; Hupfield et al., 2013; Lynch, 2001). With technology changing so rapidly, some have concerns about long-term compatibility. I can relate to this. I’m regularly frustrated by how technological advancements contributes to obsolescence and waste. While on vacation this summer, I lost my 4th generation iPod Nano and I eventually decided to purchase a new one. I discovered that the new (7th generation) wasn’t compatible with my Sony radio/disc/iPod player and the recommended adapter was reviewed as not working well with the new iPods, and in some cases, had ruined users’ new iPod Nano. My player was only 5 years old and worked perfectly well, but was essentially obsolete in terms of playing music on new generations of iPods . Ugh! While I enjoyed the features of my new iPod, I was happy when my old one turned up and I had the opportunity to fully use my player again. I worry about the same happening with books. Perhaps I lack trust in the innovators to maintain compatibility and to ensure that my e-books will be forever accessible.

Sharing/gifting books and magazines. One year for Christmas, I gave my sister a collection of specialty magazines I had bought over the years. Although some of the magazines were 5 years old, she appreciated and enjoyed the collection. I have also enjoyed buying books for her over the years – print and e-books. I will admit that buying an e-book as a gift for someone feels less satisfying somehow. Perhaps this is more about my gift giving practices – liking to look at the book, flip through the pages, and wrap the gift. I like thinking that the my sister has a physical object and that when she looks at it, will know I was thinking about her and her love of reading. The book is a symbol of knowing her and of loving her. Gifting physical books and magazines feels more personal, but I also feel as though I’m giving something that has more value (Richardson & Mahmood, 2012). From a practical perspective (e.g., storage), my sister may prefer that I gift e-books rather than contribute to a growing household book collection.

Expressions of identity and interests. When I visit someone who has shelves of cookbooks or travel books or mystery novels or has a biographies or books on gardening on their coffee table – I quickly learn something about that person. Arguably the books we keep and display communicate something about us – to others and to ourselves (e.g., reminders of aspects of our identity or our values). When we read in public places the same can occur. If we are reading a book on the bus or in a coffee shop and someone notices and shares an interest or love for the author’s books, it presents an opportunity to connect and interact. While e-readers offer the advantage of privacy, the disadvantage may be a missed opportunity to engage others in a social interaction related to what is being read. Perhaps as the technology of e-readers develops, there will be opportunity for those reading on devices to communicate to those near them what books or magazines they are reading.

Nostalgia. Catone (2011) talks about the nostalgia that is associated with books. This makes sense to me. For example, I imagine that for some there is a different experience when reading a Bible at church on an e-reader versus taking the Bible that has been passed down through the family or was given at a Baptism or Christening. I find myself experiencing disappointment when I see books that I used to read as a child with new, updated covers. I’m currently giving my 7 year-old niece books from the Judy Blume series. When I first looked at the new Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, my heart sank a bit. The cover was nothing like my copy. While the content was the same, it didn’t produce the same feeling of nostalgia as the Little Bear books do when I look at them. They have maintained their same covers over the years and I have had that experience of nostalgia when buying them for my nieces. When I first caught a glimpse of the cover of the latest print version of  Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing, I wished that I had kept my Judy Blume books to pass on to my niece. But as Catone points out, nostalgia is generational and print books may not produce the same nostalgia for today’s youth as it might for those who are over 40 or or 60.

As covers of books change, does this impact the "nostalgia factor" associated with physical books?

As covers of books change, does this impact the “nostalgia factor” associated with physical books?

Lessen screen time. And perhaps my affinity for a physical book is my perception that by choosing a physical book, I am choosing to have a non-screen leisure experience. While the improved contrast features of e-readers means I could read a book from an e-reader while enjoying the sunshine on my deck, as someone who spends 8 hours a day working in reading from a screen, I feel the need to move away from it during my non-work hours. I enjoy the shift to reading a physical book or magazine – both the physical shift away from the computer and the mental shift from work reading to leisure reading.

Conclusion

Based on the research, it seems that in the work environment and for knowledge workers in particular, there is a great appreciated for the digitization of print media and the opportunity to read material through various modalities. When it comes to other forms of reading such as leisure reading, there are also significant advantages of e-readers and users seem to weigh these advantages in the context of their own lives against both the disadvantages of e-readers and the advantages or perceived value of physical books.

References

Cantone, J. (2011). “Why Printed Books Will Never Die”. Available at: http://mashable.com/2013/01/16/e-books-vs-print/#PBqnxWFs1PqS

Culén, A. L., & Gasparini, A. (2011). E-book Reader and the Necessity of Divergence from the Legacy of Paper Book. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Advances in Computer Human Interaction (pp. 267-273).

Hupfeld, A., Sellen, A., O’Hara, K., & Rodden, T. (2013). Leisure-based Reading and the Place of E-books in Everyday Life. In Human-Computer Interaction–INTERACT 2013 (pp. 1-18). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Indvik, L. (2010). “E-book Sales Up 193% So Far This Year”. Available at: http://mashable.com/2010/10/15/e-book-sales-august-2010/

Lynch, C. (2001, June 4). “The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World.” First Monday, 6(6), Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/5fxx6

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (2010).Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2010–2014.. Available at: http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/global-entertainment-media-outlook

Queenan, J. (2012, October 22). My 6,128 favorite books. Wall Street Journal. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444868204578064483923017090.

Richardson Jr, J. V., & Mahmood, K. (2012). eBook readers: user satisfaction and usability issues. Library Hi Tech, 30(1), 170-185.

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Criminalizing Childhood Independence Can Increase Barriers to Children’s Leisure and Recreation

This week in my Youth Development through Recreation and Sport course, we’ve been talking about the role of parents in children’s development. The discussion reminded me of a news story that was initially reported on in January 2015 in which parents were investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) for allowing their 10 year-old and six-year old to walk home alone (about 1 mile) from a local park. At the time the story broke, it was the third news story in less than a year that involved parents encountering trouble with the law for their children walking to or from local parks/playgrounds alone or playing in parks/playgrounds without a parent being present. These stories are originating in the United States, but they get press in Canada and Canadian parents’ reactions to the story have been varied. There are those who agree that children should be constantly supervised, those who describe themselves as “free range parents” who allow their children to explore and experience the world without constantly monitoring them, and those who would argue their beliefs and approach to their children’s freedom fits somewhere in between.

childhood independence

These types of stories surprised me. Part of my surprise that a parent is accused of neglect in a situation where his/her child is walking home from a park could be related to the freedom I had as a child. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I was allowed to bike around my neighbour and to friends’ houses by myself or with my younger sister, to walk or bike to the convenience store in my neighbourhood to get a treat with my allowance, and to go to my elementary school playground and play with my sister or friends. That freedom came with opportunities to assess and take risks, to make decisions, to explore, to problem solve, and to actually have adventures to share with my family when asked, “What did you do at the playground today?” No one interpreted my sister and I playing at the playground by ourselves as my parents being neglectful. Doing these things was considered as “normal”.

News stories like the recent one about the Meitiv family who had their children, age 10 and 6, picked up and delivered home in a police cruiser midway through their 1-mile walk home from the park indicate – as Petula Dvorak, columnist with the The Washington Post suggests – that there has been a cultural shift in criminalizing childhood independence. This shift, I believe, comes with a significant consequence to children’s leisure and recreation behaviours.

Increasing Barriers to Children’s Play, Leisure, and Recreation

Some children face a number of barriers to accessing recreation and leisure pursuits. They may be limited to activities or experiences in which their parent(s) can afford to financially support or by their parents’ ability to transport them to facilities for programs. Some parents have irregular work schedules or travel frequently and can’t consistently support children’s regular participation in organized programs. What happens when children are also limited from using recreation resources in their neighbourhoods or communities unless they are supervised at all times? Will stories of parents being scrutinized for allowing their children to walk or bike to parks or playgrounds in their area contribute to parents feeling increasingly uncomfortable with allowing or encouraging children to play independently?

Before the story was over for the Meitiv family, they were found responsible, in March 2015, for “unsubstantiated” child neglect meaning CPS would keep a file on the children for five years. Then, in April 2015, their children were picked up a second time from a local park. A happy ending of sorts came in June 2015, when they were cleared of all neglect charges and CPS revised its policy. Children will not be considered neglected without evidence that while unsupervised, the child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of being harmed.

Reconciling the Mixed Messages

I wonder how we, as a society, can expect to have success with efforts such as active transportation (e.g., kids walking or biking to school) if we also communicate that it is not appropriate for children to walk that same neighbourhood on their own to the park or playground or local pool.

ParticipACTION produced a commercial that prompted parents to “Bring Back Play”. This ad was targeted at parents who are of the generation in which being out playing and being active was common. But can we really bring back play… play as it was? Is the campaign tag line something parents living within the current culture of parental anxiety and fear about children’s safety can even relate to (O’Connor & Brown, 2013). Perhaps first, we need campaigns that emphasize how safe neighbourhoods are or campaigns that encourage people to get to know their neighbours so that people can feel more comfortable letting their children move autonomously on the streets near home.

The latest ParticipACTION commercial series communicates that screen time limits play time or opportunity and that we (parents/children/other influential adults) need to “make room for play”. The images are, for example, of children playing hockey in an empty parking lot (see video below) or basketball in park court or skipping rope outside. In none of these videos are children being supervised by parents. How might this fit with parents’ own anxiety about leaving children unsupervised or their concerns about how they might be perceived by others if they were to send their child to the part unsupervised. Is the message that it is okay for children to play in the neighbourhood as long as they are in a group?

ParticipACTION Make Room for Play Video

If We Criminalize Childhood Independence…

… then I wonder why we are not criminalizing childhood physical inactivity and screen time. I’m not suggesting any aspect of childhood leisure, recreation, or play should be criminalized. However, if we are going to label parents as neglectful if they facilitate opportunities for their children to develop independence and autonomy, it does not make sense that we would ignore other potential “dangerous” childhood behaviours. For example, while currently working on a revision to its recommendations, the American Pediatric Association has previously discouraged screen use for children younger than 2 years of age. Several studies have produced evidence that screen-time, especially passive television time, can be harmful for children under two. Television tends to have negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, short-term memory, sleep, and attention/concentration (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Children’s declining levels of physical activity are linked with increasing levels of childhood obesity (Healthy Active Living for Children and Youth, 2002) and we are bombarded with messages about the negative consequences of childhood obesity in terms of the short- and long-term health of children (e.g., sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol). However, we don’t see stories about parents being considered as neglectful if they allow their child to watch tv for 8 hours on a Saturday or play on tablets all day. Yet, one could argue, that those parenting decisions could be just as harmful or perhaps more harmful than allowing a children to play in a nearby park and walk home afterward.

The Meitivs seem to be making thoughtful parenting decisions that foster independence and  contribute positively to their children’s development. And, the only risk of walking home from the park – as identified by the police at least – was that the children could be abducted by a stranger. Yet, the odds of that are pretty slim according to statistics Dvorak presents in her Post piece. Fear mongering, in my opinion, does little to support parents in facilitating children’s independence in their leisure time nor does it support parents in helping their children acquire the various assets that are associated with positive youth development and thriving.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement: Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132(5), 958-961.

Healthy active living for children and youth (2002). Paediatrics & Child Health, 7(5), 339-358.

O’Connor, J., & Brown, A. (2013). A qualitative study of ‘fear’ as a regulator of children’s independent physical activity in the suburbs. Health & Place, 24, 157-164.

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