Digital Competitiveness

Book vs e-reader debates have become so boring and pointless that it would be preferable to read the terms and conditions of joining the Kindle Store* to read anything about whether the page or the screen will prevail in the battle of How To Read™. I am not here to get involved in this: I am happy to use both and for people to read in whatever way is convenient to them. I am here to discuss a specifically e-reader phenomenon that happens when I use mine.

Before that, I must note the weird fact that I constantly forget I own a Kindle. I’ve had one for nearly two years and I forget for months at a time that I own one. This fact perhaps makes this phenomenon more pronounced, as reading on an e-reader is something I don’t do every day. Somehow, I have not developed a sense of Kindle object permanence, like a baby with an impressive reading age.

The phenomenon I am talking about is reading competitiveness – with myself. When I read physical books, I have a tendency to vaguely track how I’m doing, page-wise. At some point near the start of my reading a book, I will look and see how many pages it has, then throughout the book will occasionally pause to think ‘oh look, a quarter of the way through’ or ‘over two thirds now!’. With an e-reader, or at least on my basic Kindle, there is a percentage at the bottom of the screen. A dangerous percentage.

This week I have read three books on my Kindle: Atwood’s MaddAddam, the vampire novella Carmilla, and a music memoir called I Blame Morrissey. Each book, of differing lengths, genres, and styles, was read by me as if I was in competition with the Kindle. I even chose Carmilla from my to-read collection because it was short and easily achieved. My eye could not stop looking at that percentage. Past 75% I knew I was on the home straight and would speed up even more. In short, I have a problem.

What is weird is that I am not a competitive person. I quite recently was beaten six games in a row in Trivial Pursuit by my best friend and I did not care, just enjoying playing. I am the kind of person who is willing to let other, competitive people win if that might be good for them (and I like them, of course). Against my Kindle, however, I am determined. And I wonder if anyone else becomes competitive at the sight of that little percentage, goading you into reading a little more, a little faster. Trying to win at reading.

*Note: The terms and conditions of joining the Kindle Store could be thrilling: I, like everybody else, have never read them.