Things That Make Me Smile No.130: eInk, eReaders, and Reading Pleasure

Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo AuraMost of my smiles are quick videos or songs I want to share. This week I thought I’d talk about something a little more complicated but which definitely deserves a place on my Things That Make Me Smile list. The idea came out of some discussions I had with readers at the Sands Reno Comic Con. If you’ve talked books with me before, though, you’ll know this is nothing new.

My smile today is all about eReaders. They are so much more than just another fancy gadget tech addicts want in their collection. eReaders are a path back to reading. They were for me, and there are many people out there who could benefit from them as well. Many beliefs about eReaders fail to capture what makes them worthwhile. So I’m going to tell the tale of my eReaders, and I’ve gone through a few at this point.

I don’t remember what year it was, but I came to the conclusion, based on reading up on it, that I wanted to try an eReader. This was long enough ago that you just had to grit your teeth and purchase sight unseen because no normal stores carried them. They were a hybrid object of technology and books that were not multipurpose and just seemed weird. My first was a Sony eReader that, while slow, worked just fine for reading books in a variety of eBook formats. My son has it now.

However, my reading ability had been dropping for a while. Reading made me exhausted and triggered migraines not because I didn’t enjoy it, and not because my glasses prescription had gone out of date. I have a condition called Irlen Syndrome. I’ve mentioned it a time or two, but the basics are extreme light sensitivity to the point where visual distortions occur. Think of reading when the letters run around the page like ants and you’ll get some sense of what it’s like. I’ve been getting worse because I have less energy to throw at translating (or trapping) the letters into words. So when I learned of eReaders, my ears perked up and I wondered if they could mean hope as a technological solution to my light issues.

Spoiler alert: It works.

Between all the light pollution from working on the computer and going places where fluorescent lighting is common (the oscillation in both is visible to me), my poor eyes were exhausted. I have colored glasses to help dampen the light and I keep my monitor settings so low you’d think I was trying to prevent people from reading over my shoulder, but it wasn’t enough to help me read.

eInk, the technology that powers all eReaders, though, was able to calm the light response enough that I could read again. I’m still not devouring books like in days of old, but with the reduced eyestrain, I’m consistently reading 50-60 books or more a year, and that’s not counting editing or critiquing.

The technology works by simulating printing rather than creating the image of a letter by tossing a bunch of pixels into the space. I know this because I read an article where someone bought a high-powered microscope and posted about how he ran a test comparing a printed book to an eInk eReader and a tablet. What he found was the eInk and print were both still letters on the page no matter how high he cranked the machine. The tablet (and therefore phones, computers, etc.) dissolved the letters into a collection of pixels that became unreadable. This is probably why they cause eyestrain. Your eyes not only have to see, but they have to interpret against a map of letters every time.

The eInk technology is amazing, elegant, and gave me back something almost as important as breathing, and that’s just as a reader. I’ve since found ways my eReaders can assist in editing and critiquing as well. Where I would never scribble a note in a book, and post-it notes require carrying them around and then they fall out anyway, I can make notes on what I liked so when I write my reviews, everything is there in front of me even if a few weeks or more have passed since I read the book. For editing, I can mark typos or necessary changes with an easy reference to exactly where I made the comment.

Then there’s my new toy. (Pictured on the right above with my Kindle.)

I had a bad month or so a while back when my Kindle Paperwhite bricked. It was more than a few years old and the first version, but the Nook I have (bought a refurb on closeout to test my books) is annoying and doesn’t do comments in a way I can easily extract. Besides, it only reads ePub and the books I was reading were Mobi. I was offered a slight discount on a replacement, and that one has been running fine ever since. Still, I believe in redundancy. If it happened once, it can happen again. This time, though, I took a chance on a Kobo Aura which can read both ePub and Mobi so gives me a solution for the Nook and protects against my Kindle failing.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered during setup that the Kobo integrates with Pocket, an app for storing online articles to read later. Thanks to this, though I miss out on video content and color pictures, I can now read many of the articles (and online fiction) I’m interested in (which is where my interesting links come from) right on my eReader without the eyestrain of reading on the computer. Technology is paving the way for reading to become pain free and easy once again, for me and for possibly a good portion of those people who have chosen not to read in the first place because of these barely recognized issues.

This isn’t even mentioning the ability to adjust font type and font size at will depending on your comfort, something a print book just cannot do. As people hit the age when their eyes don’t adjust as well, this allows you to read at whatever size your eyes think is comfortable in the moment, without having to keep a stack of large print editions for the bad days…and with the chance of a much larger print than is ever printed.

So, if you haven’t tried eReaders, unlike my first eReader, you can hop over to your nearby electronics store and check some out. Bring your favorite paperback and compare. Or introduce your tech happy kid to books the techie way. You just might have a reader you didn’t know you did.

If you do read on an eReader, drop your favorite moment into the comments and help spread the truth of the eReader revolution that is often lost in lack of information or active misinformation.

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