Readercon has been over for a couple days, and I’m just starting to recover. One panel that got me stirred up was “The Aesthetics of Online Magazines,” which left me feeling very depressed about the future of the web as a means of delivering fiction as text.
They mentioned that there seems to be a huge dropoff in attention after about 5000 words. They talked about trying to recapture the experience of reading on paper. (I hope they don’t think that awful Flash presentation of “The Cambist and Lord Iron” is a good example.) Someone mentioned that fuzzy-headed romantic BS about the feel of a book and the smell of the paper. And then one of the panelists spoke of the real power of books–of words–that magical moment when you’re reading a book, and the page goes away, the book goes away, the whole world goes away–you’re in the world of the book.
I can think of a few books that did that to me. I can think of a few podcasts that did that to me. Directions. The House Beyond Your Sky. Trunk & Disorderly. But I can’t think of a single time where that’s happened to me while reading online.
It is so uncomfortable to read on a computer. The screen is fixed. The chair hurts your butt. Your eyes blur after 5000 words. Even if you find a comfortable position, you can only maintain it so long before your neck stiffens and your shoulders start crawling into your ears. With a laptop, you have a little more freedom, until the cat climbs into his proper place and swats your arm every time you reach for the keyboard so you can scroll to the next screen. And that’s assuming it’s not formatted in gothic minuscule in gray text on a black blackground with purple borders.
Have mercy on us poor readers!
Many of the solutions offered involved reading it offline. Whether as printouts or an a PDA or a Kindle, those are all workarounds to get you away from the screen. Oh sure, there’s a few things you can do to make reading online easier. Short paragraphs. Newspaper columns. Large, dark text. Illustrations and even ads to break up the screen. But no amount of good web design can compete with curling up in a comfy chair and putting the book just where you want it.