Turning the pages of an e-book. The book metaphor

This is a fascinating talk about whether the use of the book metaphor is appropriate for electronic documents. There’s two schools of thought on this. On the one hand we have those who believe that the book metaphor is useful because humans are already experienced in handling physical books, its ingrained into our psyche. On the other hand many others argue that the metaphor is not useful, and by clinging on to it we are limiting the potential of electronic books – these people also argue that whatever new metaphor are presented they will gain traction and people will get used to them over time, but one could argue that about any technology that becomes pervasive over time. .

I dont want to sound critical of Veronica’s work or even her findings I think it is fascinating, and well worth watching the talk. I just cant help but feel that we are going to be stuck with the book metaphor for a long time to come. All I have to do is look at myself – I work with computers all the time, I download e-books, PDF’s, manual’s ranging from a few pages in length to hundreds of pages. I know that it’s less wasteful and possibly more efficient, and even faster to find the bits i’m interested in by searching the electronic document … I rarely ever bother doing that. I tend to print them out, and if you a funky printer like the one we have at work it’ll print out 4 sides per sheet of A4 then hey presto you have a small A5 size copy of the document/book.

I think there’s several reason’s for this, firstly screens are terrible for reading documents on, they strain the eyes, it’s hard to find the right level of contrast, most screens flicker and the more intently you stare at them the more your eyes hurt over time, if your reading on a desktop machine or a laptop then it’s also easy to be distracted. In contrast, I can happily spend a whole day reading a book cover to cover without ever feeling fatigued or distracted. I can also scribble in them (ok I use those funky peelable sticky labels these days:p as colored bookmarks), I can carry the book with me, read it on the train or the bus, or in bed.

I don’t believe that the book metaphor actually works when interacting with a computer using a keyboard or a mouse. Any time I’ve ever tried to read a book on computer where I had to drag one corner of the book in a pseudo page turning movement, I’ve been left wondering how it would be so much easier with a next page button – the page turning animation looks nice but after a while they become irritating. The metaphor might work on more tactile interface, like the multi-touch interfaces that are slowly being rolled out.

Now I know I’m not a luddite and I’m certainly not anti technology it’s just that I haven’t come across a way to read an electronic book that I’d prefer over having a real book … yet! We’re seeing advancements now in paper technologies where electronic books can be downloaded onto special types of paper that will display the content. Perhaps that’s the real way forward? Have a real book but you can change the contents of to whatever your currently reading … best of both worlds?