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Reading habits, or why we hate E-readers



Behavioural research has established that consistent cues help establish and maintain behaviours.  Habits are best developed when there is some unique sensory cue like a certain type of mug or a particular sensation.  According to Charles Duhigg, author of the bestseller The Power of Habit, the reason toothpaste went from an initial failure to a huge success was due to the addition of a component that created a tingling.  The tingling was a signal that was associated with “cleaning” your teeth.  

If we look at print books maybe it is possible that a particular chair or the feel of the book itself is the signal for reading behaviour.  If you have developed certain reading habits, you may find the notion of changing reading habits aversive.  Some people love to read in bed almost exclusively and just can’t read unless they are reclined.  If you were to pick an e-reader or imagine using one, you might find that reading just looses some of its intrinsic appeal.  It just doesn’t feel right (at first). Give me an aromatic (dusty) old hardcover. 

In the August 10th edition of The Guardian, Adam Williamson writes about the biases that commonly accompany, in his words, the literary intelligentsia.  It is not that e-readers are perfect, but criticisms can be poorly informed while benefits ignored.  What is important, in his mind, is reading.  But even though his appeal to logic is strong, the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of reading are significant even if they are not sometimes acknowledged for what they are.

Habits and routines are supposed to be the stable bedrock of our lives.  Changing habits is uncomfortable, confusing and stressful at times.  Changing reading habits is especially challenging when they seem forced on us as technology progresses.  We resent this loss of control and, in this context, iit is understandable why there can be deep emotional resistance to the introduction of a new reading experience.  And yet when we expand our enjoyment of traditional print to embrace the new experience of e-readers, we may find that they too offer brand new experiences that were never possible before.  But sometimes we need assistance.

Staff at the various branches of Ottawa Public Library can assist customers with their e-readers and answer questions.  We hope that by supporting customers as they adapt to the new paradigm we can continue to broaden and deepen their love of reading and learning.