There has been a lot of buzz around the topic of ebooks and ereaders in the past year, and last year Angus & Robertson and Borders Australia started stocking Kobo and Sony ereaders, but Australians have not taken to ebooks in the kind of mass numbers seen in the US and Europe. This is partly because of less content available to Australians compared to the US and Europe (although there is still a huge amount available) and less Australian authors having ebook versions of their work (although some authors with major publishers are getting ebook versions – such as
Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James, The Delta by Tony Park, Red Dust by Fleur McDonald, the E-Force books by Michael White (as Sam Fisher) and Ghost Watch by David Rollins), partly because big players in ereaders and audiobooks are more focused on the US and Europe, and partly due to a range of other factors. However, how many writers are embracing developments in wireless technology which have made it possible to read, write and communicate away from offices and homes?
In this article, I will discuss my personal experience of portabe eLit (a term I’m using to encompass the various uses of electronic technology for literary purposes – eg. ebooks; digital audiobooks; authors, readers, publishers, etc using blogs and networking sites to interact and inform one another).
I have been travelling around Australia for a month, with at least another month to go, and have all my eLit capabilities covered by the following pieces of equipment:
Laptop computer, USB modem, Kindle ereader, and mobile phone.
So let’s have a look at why I have each one and some of the benefits each provides.
Laptop computer and USB modem
My laptop and USB modem (which, for anyone not so knowledgable with computers, is something you can plug in to access the internet wirelessly wherever mobile phones get reception) are for email, typing articles, reading and editing stories, researching on the internet, posting content on AusLit, Facebook and Twitter, listening to audiobooks, etc.
Also, just about every McDonald’s in Australia has free wireless internet which is fine for general browsing on the internet but not suitable for anything requiring you to enter a password online because it is not a secure network (meaning people could potentially see what you send online, and they have warning screen to tell you this when you connect). So it’s great for free internet for research, reading and commenting on blogs, etc but I wouldn’t log in to my email, Facebook, banking etc on their free internet.
My Kindle is for reading ebooks.
You may ask: Why read an ebook when you can read a print book?
For me, a major benefit is the portability: I can carry hundreds, or even thousands, of books with me at one time in a device which is the size one very thin book and weighs about as much as one book.
I can also change the size of the writing, highlight parts and sort through the higlighted bits separately with the ability to jump to that page in the book, write notes and attach them to places in the book with the ability to jump to that page from the note, use the text-to-voice function to have the Kindle read to me like an audiobook (the voice is computer generated but they have become very good, even much better than compared to a few years ago), and download a huge range of public domain ebooks for free. (Kindle books can also be read on a PC, Mac, and other compatible devices when you download a free app from Amazon here, allowing you to get all the free public domain books even if you don’t buy anything.)
You may say: A laptop computer can carry lots of ebooks too. Why bother having both?
There are several main reasons:
My laptop has a luminescent screen and I’d prefer not to be looking at it constantly for hour after hour with the light shining at my eyes, like watching a TV very close to the screen. My Kindle has a screen with paper-like quality, like a high tech etchasketch, in which I can clearly see well defined contrast between the writing and the background (just as clear and well defined as print on paper, viewed from any angle) with no backlight shining at my eyes. My Kindle cover, which makes it look like a small leatherbound book, also has a built-in energy efficient reading light for reading in the dark without straining my eyes, if I need it.
My Kindle has better battery life than my laptop. It has battery life of about a week of heavy use (or about a month of light-moderate use) – whereas my laptop lasts for up to 11 hours of use. For a kindle, the energy is used to change the image on screen so the length of the battery life depends more on how many times you click to turn the page than how long you spend reading. Once an image is on the Kindle screen, it can stay there without requiring more power, similar to how an etchasketch can hold it’s image without using power, because it doesn’t rely on a light source generated in the screen to create the image.
My mobile phone is for listening to audiobooks.
I can download audiobooks on my computer and transfer them onto my phone (depending on what type of audio file they are). My mobile phone battery can last for something like 40-50 hours of audiobook listening. Plus, batteries for my phone are cheap, so I have few spare ones which basically allow me to listen to as many audiobooks as I want while I travel.
I like listening to audiobooks when my hands or eyes are busy – such as when eating, walking, writing notes as I listen, etc. Reading doesn’t have to be the sedentary activity that many people treat it as. I can walk along a bushwalking track, around a bay or through a botanical gardens for a few hours, including some lunch along the way, listening to an audiobook while exercising and seeing the sights.
Small laptop computers and affordable mobile broadband means that authors, readers, bookbloggers, publishers, etc can be out and about while still being productive. I can be in Adelaide one day, Melbourne the next, Sydney the next, and the Gold Coast the next and have the functionality of an office and library.
If you’re sitting a desk somewhere, or at home, reading and/or writing for hours at a time, ask yourself: I that where you want to do your reading and writing, or would you prefer to do it by the beach, in the wilderness, at a city park, while browsing a gallery or museum…?
The Australian Literature Review