Don’t forget e-ink! An African’s perspective.

I’ve been advocating the use of ebooks among publishers, librarians, educators and developers for six years now. One of the things that I often need to explain is the difference between an ereader and a media tablet. That’s easy; I just focus on the hardware and software differences.

The hard part is explaining the usefulness of each, because these are simply two currently popular ways of packaging digital media – indeed, packaging knowledge. It really doesn’t matter what the container is – if you assume that the container has an effect on the content.

If we agree that the container has an effect on the content, it’s not surprising that people tend to downplay the value of ereaders, especially ones that use an e-ink display. It is as if a display that isn’t full colour, doesn’t show HD video and doesn’t support fluid screen interaction is less valuable than others. Feature-rich smart phones and media tablets seem the best suited as carrier of information, because they’re the Ferraris of digital media consumption.

Well, we don’t have much fuel. Also, not everyone can afford a Ferrari – nor do they have to. E-ink is cheaper, more durable, consumes less power. Hence, containers that use this type of display are cheaper, more durable and consume less power. If these devices don’t affect our relationship with reading, why downplay their value?

Also, we’re reading away from the desktop. Our interaction with digital media occurs everywhere. This implies that we can go outside again, where there’s sunlight. Here, the container does affect the content for sure. Have you ever tried to work on a backlit display in sunlight? E-ink doesn’t have that problem. 

I have a media tablet, too. I use it a lot. This post isn’t meant for people who can afford lots of gadgets – we have a choice. That’s why I wince every time someone looks at an e-ink  display and summarily dismisses it as a tool for reading.

Should displays that are both transmissive and reflective become popular and affordable, this would invalidate my point. Initiatives such as Worldreader and Paperight indicate, however, that we cannot only look to the developed world for guidance in this regard.


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