Reflections Usability

Books and Paper and Letting Go

Book Club Boutique Newspaper
Credit: flickr / STML

My mother, a busy GP, has accumulated a stack of newspapers that she has not had time to read. She keeps them in the hope that she will, one day, have more free time. I pointed out that she would be unlikely to want to spend this new free time reading newspapers from ages ago, to no avail.

So, my dad and I decided to get her an iPad. The newspaper can arrive digitally, and the missed details of the world that day can accumulate on the internet, not in the living room.

We went to the Apple store, and tried out The Times (she insists on reading The Times, despite me explaining that Rupert Murdoch’s deluded approach to the internet was going to kill it and she may as well pick another newspaper now). Unfortunately the app only keeps the current days paper (well who wants to read yesterdays?) and as far as we can make out doesn’t come with an online subscription to look up recipes. Another annoying thing is that having paid for the paper you should be able to get an RSS feed, but I don’t think you can. So what I’ve done instead is save the link to The Times homepage on her desktop, along with a link for Facebook and Flickr. I’ve set up Google Reader (tragically it contains only my blog and twitter feeds), and email.

Having watched her use IE 6 (yes, Chrome is now installed and she’s been instructed to NEVER, NEVER use IE 6 again) it seems that setup actually fits her model of interaction really nicely. I think the iPad over the iPhone was the right choice for her.

And it’s got me thinking – yes, as usual, about user’s mental models of the internet – but also for myself. I want an iPad because it’s shiny, and surprisingly quick to type on. But I have a MacBook Air and an iPhone, do I need something in between? I have never read a physical newspaper other than the Economist – but my subscription stopped arriving several months ago and I realized I didn’t miss it. Maybe I could read books digitally instead…

However, I’m not sure I can. When I moved to Canada I took my music collection – digitalized – and tried to put my DVDs on a hard-drive with mixed success. I rarely buy CDs lately, don’t download illegally, but don’t download legally either because I’m not OK with the DRM restrictions. I do buy and rent movies on iTunes though.

It’s one thing to change digital mediums; the only CD player I own is in my car; I only own a DVD player because I have both region 1 and region 2 DVDs (life of an expat). However moving non-digital to digital is a leap. I can read a book through take-off and landing. I don’t have to worry about battery life. It’s nice to wonder through a bookstore and pick what I want to read (yes, I know you can do that digitally but my level of indecision is always much, much greater). Because I keep books, and re-read them, what would I do? Buy them again? Or just buy all future books digitally? If Amazon had some kind of service where you sent them a physical book and a digital book appeared on your Kindle (or Kindle app) I might think about it. But that service doesn’t exist.

And so, as I think about moving on – what of my possessions I can streamline, what I can throw out, what I can ship back to the UK, what will go with me. I’m keeping my books. And – not buying an iPad.

For now.

Reading a book
Credit: flickr / Fabienne D.

2 replies on “Books and Paper and Letting Go”

iTunes is DRM-free, so I’m confused.

I dislike legal downloads because they’re all crippled by lossy audio compression, but the DRM is a non-issue. iTunes and Amazon are both DRM-free.

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