Sunday, 22 March 2009

Page v Screen

In his anything but commonplace blog, A Commonplace Blog, D.G. Myers follows up on my stray thoughts on the future of the book. I think there are still a couple of things to bring in to the discussion, and they're related. I believe the sight of print on paper - in the case of a well printed book in a decent typeface and on decent paper - is not only pleasant to see but literally easy on the eye, in a way that no on-screen image can be. I have a strong suspicion - supported by plenty of anecdotal evidence - that working closely, intensely and for long stretches of time at a screen, however supposedly friendly to the eyes, does a good deal of damage, perhaps not only to the eyes. For myself (and for many others I know of) I can testify that my eyes 'went' at exactly the time I began on-screen working in earnest. Now, some 20 years later, when I reach the end of a week crouched over the computer screen, my eyes can barely focus, I am fighting off headaches and feeling a very specific kind of exhaustion which is quite distinguishable from other forms of tiredness. It may be that screens are doing us more harm than we know - it certainly feels that way to me at the end of a hard week... For me, to turn from screen to printed page is to rest the eyes (if only by the change), and to switch my reading to any kind of on-screen device would be out of the question. And I suspect that I speak for many toilers whose days are spent in the dim, pernicious glow of a computer screen.

38 comments:

  1. I'm sure you're right. A well-made book is an object of delight and a work of art. I've always thought that typographers are incredibly talented people and truly great ones are very, very rare. Mention Hermann Zapf and most folks go blank. Yet imho he is as great an artist as any in the past century.

    I share the worries about eyestrain and health. Similar symptoms here though not as bad. It helps to have a properly calibrated monitor (most are way off for brightness, contrast, colour rendition, etc.), a quiet, non-buzzy PC and a well-ventilated room to keep the ozone fug at bay. Even then, we are all still sitting in rooms surrounded by electro-magntetic fields of various kinds put out by our "must have" devices. Hmmn, maybe a season of simplicity calls.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have little experience with the new technology and books (i.e., Kindle, Sony readers, etc.), and my experiences with reading anything longer than a paragraph or two on the computer screen have not been positive. My less than perfect eyesight is one reason for my aversion to technology and books. Another more curmudgeonly reason is bound up in my aesthetic preference for the old-fashioned pleasures I get from holding and reading words printed on paper. How can electronics replace an exquisitely leather-bound text that is finely printed on quality paper? How can electronics replace the sublime adventures to be experienced while wandering and searching among the bookshelves in bookshops and libraries? How can electronics replace the bliss of sharing the wonders of the reading experience when a parent reads a bedtime story aloud to a sleepy child? The 21st century should keep its technology. Please set aside plenty of books for the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Add to the demise of the traditional book the next candidate, Hockney has abandoned his sables and bought a graphics tablet, never mind digitising art, the art is digital. The path from conception to a print run has shortened by one step. Pixels replacing ink, and oils. What next, sculpture courtesy of a seven axis router ?

    Anyone with an investment in the analogue, abandon hope all ye who enter here, doom awaits.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Joey Joe Joe Jr.23 March 2009 at 00:37

    The thing about Kindles and other e-readers that caught my attention was the talk about 'electronic ink' technology. Apparantly the image this produces is far closer to printed text than the eye-watering glow of conventional moniter displays. I haven't had chance to try any of these devices out though and I remain skeptical. The thought of reading entire books on an enlarged mobile phone or i-pod screen is quite distressing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Having read hundreds of hours on a Kindle, I can tell you it's nothing like reading from a computer screen. That said, there is nothing better than a book with quality paper and a decent font, but many of the books produced today are no better and many times far worse than the reading the same text on a Kindle or for that matter a Sony Reader. It seems you're comparing apples and oranges here. Have you read anything on a Kindle, have you spent more than a few minutes reading from one?

    ReplyDelete
  6. N.J. argues against comparing apples and oranges when discussing books and electronic texts. However, as one who is reluctant to change from books to Kindles, and in continuing with N.J.'s metaphor, it is simply because I very much prefer apples and really do not like oranges; therefore, I am not making a comparison but simply stating an immutable preference. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. You're absolutely right.

    I've been a kind of guinea pig. I began working in earnest full-time on computer monitors in the early 1980s, and haven't stopped since.

    I grew up with fighter-pilot eyesight. I was a running joke on family car trips, since I could read exit signs a mile and more down the expressway. Now, my left eye (my dominant eye) is permanently ruined with nerve damage, and I get the occasional migraine.

    The worst technology on eyesight was the generation of color CRTs. They were kind of like staring into a color TV eight hours a day, from 14 inches away. Current generation LCDs are a bit better.

    There was some proposed regulation out of OSHA in the late stages of the Carter administration, mandating breaktimes for people who worked on computer screens all day. Needless to say what the fate of those regulations were once the Reagan Revolution took hold.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've always enjoyed reading a book in bed, which allows me to drift off comfortable within 10-30 minutes, depending on how tired I am. I've found that I cannot do this while surfing the internet and blogs with my laptop in bed - in fact, this usually keeps me awake and causes me to be even more wired than before I got into bed.

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  9. More prosaic explanations are possible. Say you wear glasses, bifocals. Close prescription is for reading books at 20 inches. Computer screen is 30 inches and level with your head.

    Every time you work at the computer you tilt your head up to see through lower lens and you squint because prescription is for 20 inches, not 30 inches.

    Several hours later, you feel awful.

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