Sunday, May 31, 2009

The paperless office?

If you ever come to my house you'll see that we're a very heavily literate family, with books adorning book shelves in pretty much every room in the place. But recently my wife took to reading in ebook format, for convenience (she can now read with the lights out) and for storage (one SD card can accommodate 1000s of books and is a heck of a lot easier to store than 1000s of books!). I managed to convert an old Jornada 720 that I had from my HP days into an ebook reader so it was also good for the environment in that regard. But it got me to thinking again about paper vs bits as far as reading material goes.

I've had this discussion with friends and colleagues for decades and my opinion has always been to prefer paper than bits. Excluding the tens/hundreds of papers I read each year for work, or simply because I want to, I usually have at least another hundred or so that I go through for the various conferences/workshops that I'm involved with. Then there are the two or three PhD or MSc theses that I have to read as well.

Most of these papers come in electronic format although there are the odd exceptions. It's true that I rarely print out papers that come in, say, pdf. But I do print some of them off. Why? For convenience for a start: I can't remember the last time a stack of A4 sheets ran out of battery, and marking them up is a lot easier. But also because I like the tactile input that I get from paper. The same goes for books: I much prefer physical books than ebooks, even though the content is the same. Then there's the connectedness aspect of reading an ebook/epaper: when I'm reading them on my laptop and my mind starts to stray I quickly head for the internet or Eclipse, or something else that can take my attention and soak up my time. With a physical copy of the same material I find that my mind wanders less and if it does it tends not to go too far. Weird.

Probably the only time I yearn for an electronic version of a book or paper is if I want to do a search for something. So I suppose what I really need is for someone to invent an ebook reader that gives you the look and feel of paper!

1 comment:

Anil Saldanha said...

Mark, great post to read.

* Thankfully, I am relieved to know that I am not the only one who prefers to read from a book or paper rather than the e-version. When I try to print a large document, I try to condense it such that there are two pages on one side (or more) and print double side. I try to avoid printing some of the unnecessary pages such as License information, acknowledgements etc. The printing time is increased but avoid the extra paper.

* While reviewing technical papers, it is absolutely necessary to print them to make notes on the sides, underline errors/key points etc. I am sure you agree.

* One of the easy ways by which my wife and I satisfy our hunger for books while avoiding the guilt of clutter, is to just get the books from the local library.

* Since you author a lot of books, I am guessing that you maintain a lot of copies in stock.