Saturday, September 5, 2015

Love for the Virtual Word

Perhaps, one of the most blissful experiences for many would be — entering into a new world through the pages of an engaging book and losing oneself in it. Regular readers would agree with this quote, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
As we have been progressing on our evolutionary path far away from the time when language was first invented, the body of written content has been increasing at almost a mind-boggling pace. Just the variety and range of the written books is astoundingly high. On top of that there are journals, magazines, dailies, comics, encyclopedias, dictionaries and many more diverse categories. However, the sticklers of reading usually do not consider reading newspapers and magazines same as reading complete books and novels but it is reading nonetheless.
Reminiscing the past
Just go a couple of decades back in time and the whole scene looks quite different from the times that we are living in today. Imagining a life without gadgets which have almost become an extension of our bodies, is just so hard now. But those were the times when reading, as a hobby, was one of the few ways through which people liked to unwind, relax, rejuvenate and recreate. Curling up with a book, visualising the world of the written world, becoming a part of it and riding the waves of the narrative was one of the most pleasurable pastimes.
Come back to the present, the multimedia sector has gifted innumerable ways of recreation and relaxation to humans in ongoing times. Has the hobby of reading become a casualty among many others in today's times when gadgets, video games, social media sites and YouTube are ruling the roost? With multitude of entertainment sources to choose from, where are the loyalist readers? Is reading a dying art competing against many other glamorous and attractive entertainment sources now?
i-Age invasion
There is no doubt that the number of activities, engagements and distractions that have cropped up to lay claim on the same twenty-four hours of a day has increased tremendously. However, eBooks and eReaders do show a glimmer of hope to salvage the habit of reading among people, especially youth. Electronic version of books have extended the accessibility of books to a wider segment of people. Whether it is a tablet, Kindle, reading apps on phone or e-version of books on laptops, the options are aplenty for those who want to indulge in this pastime. Reach, accessibility and availability do not pose any issue any more. One can download almost all classics for free or at a very nominal price. Many sites and apps make free sample chapters of books available so that buyers are able to make informed decision regarding purchase of books. Kindle version of books are priced at very reduced price anyway which can be read either on a Kindle device or on any other device with Kindle app installed on it. The features that come along with reading apps and e-version of the books are not be ignored either. One can customise the font size, font style, resolution, brightness and many other things to suit one's liking. The dictionary and thesaurus support that is built in almost all good reading apps helps readers in looking up the meanings of the words by just clicking on the word. Readers can annotate wherever they want to by adding small notes along with the written text. If anything is to be looked up online, even that is just a click away when one is using apps on tabs/phones. The notification bars would keep the reader updated on the critical mails or messages that one cannot afford to miss. So if one is really looking and wanting to read, then there is absolutely no dearth of options — either in terms of books or of mediums on which it is to be read.
Features or distractions
Having said that, some of the above mentioned features do come as great hurdles in the way of uninterrupted reading experience and true purists would not want to adulterate their reading time with any of these. To them reading is just their self and the book and nothing in between, no e-mails, no messages, no Whatsapp, no notifications, no reminders and no easily accessible internet. They would rather open their trusted dictionary than look for easy solution online. But purists or otherwise, readers are readers. To them mediums do not matter, nor does the level of customisation of the written material, what matters is the book which captivates them like a trusted friend and leaves them asking for more.
But the million-dollar question is, have the eReaders and ebooks been able to spell their charm on non readers to adopt reading as a hobby? An avid reader Kannan from Chennai, studying in class IX says eReaders have just given another easy option to those who were anyway in the habit of reading. For others their existence has not made any difference. Keshav Sharma, a student of class VIII is a die-hard Harry Potter fan and has read the whole series many times over. He says, “None of my friends is into reading, for them gadgets means a device to play games on. They have not read any of the Harry Potter books either, however, they have watched all the movies. They find watching movies much more appealing than reading thick books.” Malathi Jain, who teaches English to senior secondary classes in Chennai, shares, “Reading among younger generation is fast dwindling. Chats, social media and sharing pictures and updates online take away most of their time. There is not time left to sit quietly and become a part of the world that the books open in front of us.”
A standard tablet and smartphone can do as many as 30 different tasks these days, many of which most customers don’t even use and care about. eReading features, options, variety, mediums and similar such features are for those who want to make use of them in enhancing their reading experience, otherwise the same get added to the list of unused traits of devices.
Signals point more towards the trend that spells : reading is fast turning into an endangered hobby if not extinct yet. Although electronic media can facilitate the process of reading to a great extent, but can do little to turn unwilling readers into avid readers.

Handy world of words
Among many eReader apps available for the hand-held devices, Kindle, Nook, kobo, google playbooks and iBooks are the famous ones. If one wants to keep reading separate from other phone activities then eReaders offer a great option too. Though considered as forgotten siblings of smart phones and tablets, eReaders do satisfy the inner reader in many. These are designed for reading books and deliver that excellently. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Glo, Kobo Aura HD, Barnes & Nobles Nook Simple Touch Reader (with glowLight) are rated as the top eReaders these days. ‘While one can read on any tablet using eReader apps but simple eReaders won over the regular pads as one is spared of the temptation of notification, gaming and browsing in the exclusive eReaders.’

This article appeared in 'The Tribune' on 5th Sept, 2015.

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