Page Turning in the Digital Age
Some say that we live in an era where the process of reading will be forever changed by the technology available. Usage of the iPad, Kindle, and Nook is increasing with each new slick gadget, every software update, every minimal advertisement. And with Apple’s recently announced acquisition of exclusive rights to page turning software, we find ourselves here at BAB (a digital platform ever aware of its digital makeup) wondering about the differences between digital reading and that old, out-dated organic process simply known as reading.
The decision to use page turning software in part seems like a no-brainer: considering humans have over 500 years experience flipping pages, why should digital books diverge from something so ingrained in the process of reading? Then again, an e-reader like the Nook or Kindle is not a codex. It’s a flat, digital object that’s very removed from the book form. For starters, most e-readers show you a single page at a time. Even if they don’t, the supporting structure is only a single body. It glows. It doesn’t have a recto / verso. It breaks when you drop it. These are all important, tactile differences. So why go through the trouble of page turning when there aren’t, well, pages?
Reading is an invisible process. That’s a part of its magic. Anything that draws attention to the fact that you are reading disturbs this invisibility. That includes, in my book, page turning graphics incorporated into the e-book form. Having a graphic showing each page turning may be “neat” but it doesn’t do anything in the same way that flipping a page in a paperback does. All it does is remind you that what you’re reading isn’t a real book, and what you’re touching isn’t paper. One could argue that eventually we’ll grow accustomed to page turning software and learn to ignore it. But my argument is why bother? Why complicate the process of reading when there are so many simple, less distracting alternatives available? The two that come to mind are page swiping and page clicking. Both are simple gestures to perform, easier to code, and lack the goofy intrusion of animation in order to get you to where you need to be: the next page. Also, as digital users we’re familiar with both processes as a means of progressing through material.
Here at BAB, we’d love to see literary technology look beyond cheesy graphics that reference the book. As book artists, we follow the mantra of “marriage of form and content.” We see vessel and content as working together to create a cohesive experience. The book is not going anywhere just because we have e-readers. We have paperbacks. Hopefully, we always will. But we don’t need our digital books to imitate them in order to feel “good” about e-reading in the same way that we don’t need the Nook to have a spine, or “page ripping software.” Instead, why not embrace the opportunity to truly treat the digital book as a new medium, capable of inspiring new ways of reading? Why not investigate methods of reading that are only possible in the digital form? We hope that as the usage of e-readers increases, manufacturers of digital products will seek to investigate the process of reading in relation to the possibilities of the digital material in which it is presented, and not according to the characteristics of the technology from which it came.