Does the Kindle provide an immersive reading experience?

I’m currently reading an excellent book by Nicholas Carr called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. A longer review is forthcoming, but today I want to respond to a few implications that ebooks and the Kindle are threatening reading in our society. Carr quotes author Steven Johnson who began using a Kindle, noted awesome potential, but also said:

“I fear that one of the great joys of book reading—the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author’s ideas—will be compromised. We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little bit here, a little bit there.”

My experience has been almost exactly opposite. I find the Kindle a highly immersive experience, much moreso than physical books. I tend to drift into a trance-like state, hitting next-next-next, completely forgetting the device. Twice have I brought the Kindle on my lunch break to a restaurant and, when leaving, checked the time to realize I sat there for 3 hours reading.

Carr then quotes Christine Rosen, who had the following to say after reading a Dickens novel on the Kindle:

“Although mildly disorienting at first, I quickly adjusted to the Kindle’s screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons. Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer. Distractions abounded. I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, ‘Mugby Junction.’ Twenty minutes later I still hadn’t returned to my reading of Nickleby on the Kindle.”

Frankly, I have no idea what she is talking about, and certainly don’t think she followed a rabbit trail on Wikipedia via the Kindle browser. I doubt anyone who owns a Kindle uses the web browser except when there is absolutely no other option for Internet. It is painfully slow and awkward to navigate. On the other hand, if reading led to a Wikipedia binge on a nearby computer, I hardly believe that’s the Kindle’s fault.

My favorite feature of the Kindle is the difficulty in navigating the operating system. The transaction cost to do anything except read keeps me reading, which I credit for helping me begin reading widely again. For this reason, I expect to keep using a Kindle long after I get an iPad (when I graduate) and prefer the Kindle device to the iPhone app, even though the iPhone is always with me.

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