Tablet computers: distraction or enhanced digital reading experience?

I find that attempting to work on my laptop is a challenge to my focusing skills under normal circumstances. Work colleagues are always sending intriguing links that, of course, lead to other links and further discussion and the occasional “oh yes, I saw this other day that I wanted to share … let me find it again” which in turn leads to other tangential distractions. I am the poster child for the digitally distracted.

At the risk of dating myself, I remember when the HP iPaQ was released. I was rabid to get one, and when I did, one of the first things I did was explore eBooks. In those days, eBooks were limited to a form of PDF especially created and compressed for viewing on a compact device. I am not even sure the concept of an ePUB or a Mobipocket file format was a reality yet. Well, maybe Mobipocket was, but not ePUB and it certainly wasn’t as mainstream as it is now. To get back to the point, I remember this experience because it was the first true geek gadget experience of my life and the one thing has stuck with me about that experience was that there was always too much to do and explore on the iPaQ than I had time for. Hence, my reading was always interrupted by the need to pay attention to something else about the device.

The Kindle was the first device I had ever seen that I thought could truly replace the real book for me. And not because I had to read electronic books, but because when I travelled, my luggage was always 10 or so pounds heavier than it needed to be due to the dozen or so books that I had to have with me. (When I say I am a voracious reader, I am not kidding!) The electronic eReader was a wondrous discovery for me – now I could take my whole library with me and not have to choose before a trip what I will be reading while I was gone. And, a device that offers up little distraction other the pull of the other books I could be reading. What a blessing for this distraction poster-child!

Enter the Apple iPad. Another wondrous invention – but not for me as a reader, but for me as someone who would like to have their computer with them everywhere they go and was loathe to lug around a 5 or 6 pound computer along with her Kindle, wallet, and smartphone. As a proud first generation Kindle adopter, I was already knee deep in Amazon books anyway, so I tried out the Kindle app on the iPad.

I will tell you this – the color and touch screen experience is a far cry from your e-Ink reader. It is a visual and tactile pleasure and is possibly the nearest thing to a real-book experience that you can find electronically. And then came the email notifications or the Facebook notifications. Or the calendar pop-ups and alarm bells and whistles associated with other apps that I had installed on my iPad, and they just totaled this distraction poster child’s resolve.

Conclusion: reading on a tablet-like computer is not something I can do. I either have to pick up a real book, or a distraction free device like an e-Ink reader. Apparently, I am not the only one. A New York Times article just this week seems to echo the same sentiments and goes on to hint that maybe publishers themselves are having the same reservations. Tablet computers just offer up too much distraction for a reader who struggles with focus to begin with; not to mention to tempt those who never had a problem in the first place. It all seems to circle the same drain – the idea that our lives have become a cacophony of social network updates, email messages, instant messages, and other distractions that just interfere with our quality of life.

If you have a tablet computer of any kind, do you read on it? How would you describe the experience? Better yet, do you have both a tablet computer and a dedicated e-Ink reader; if so, how would you describe the experience of both and which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook Fan Page.

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