The Day I Forgot How to Use a Book

I was shocked at what I had just done, so I laughed out loud. I was there, in a house in the Swiss mountains, lying comfortably on a sofa. I was reading Canetti's Crowds and Power, a solid 400-page book. And then, as my eyes were approaching the end of yet another page, I swiped upwards.


My index finger, quite naturally, swiped upwards on the paper, in an attempt to move the lines I was reading more towards the middle of the page.

It took me a second or so to realise what I had done, but when I did, I was flabbergasted. Since I wasn't alone in the room, I felt caught, caught at doing the silliest of things. But even more so, I felt caught at doing something that identifies me as a slave to digital devices.

Sure enough, we all know the stories and have seen the videos of small children trying to swipe through a print magazine or touching a plain old TV screen, expecting some response. But hey, I'm 30 years old, I grew up in a paper world. I've read thousands of newspapers, academic papers, magazines and books on paper. It's not that I had learnt a different way to interact with text that I'm now trying to apply to a weird thing called book.

Yet I swiped a book.

I blame it on the iPad. It was the iPad that made me read a lot more digitally, especially longer texts. And it was the iPad that brought digital texts in environments that used to be the domain of physical ones: reading in bed, reading in the train, reading on…a sofa.

Two years, that's how long I've been using an iPad – compared to almost 30 years of using books. Add, for what it's worth, two more years of iPhone usage, and consider the trackpad of Apple's more recent notebooks a reinforcement to swiping and scrolling as the main way to interact with text. Still, a couple of years versus three decades. It's hard not to read significance into that single gesture, applied to the wrong medium.

Apparently, Apple has introduced us to a way to interact with text that feels so natural that it even replaced long learned and internalised ways where it shouldn't.


This directly relates to something I've noticed earlier: I find it increasingly uncomfortable to move my eyes from the top of a page to the bottom as I read along. I prefer to keep my focus at roughly the same spot and to move the text rather my eyes. This, of course, is done by swiping upwards.

So there you go: I swiped a book, because the reading experience it offers no longer is my preferred one. Even now, as I'm writing this down, my mind is spinning. What story is this just a small episode of?


This post originally appeared on Medium.

David Bauer is a journalist and digital strategist for TagesWoche in Switzerland and likes to recommend great stuff in his Weekly Filet newsletter.


Follow @davidbauer on Twitter.



I don't get the draw of digital reading to begin with. Its hard to just flip through the text to find an interesting area, and far less faster to find places you've marked (whether its dog earring, writing in the text, or leaving book marks). Physical books are just faster.

Sure, you can hold more information in a digital device, but why read massive texts if you're distractable enough that you need large quantities of information to jump back and forth between?