E-readers seem like a great proposition – thousands of books in your pocket, buy and download instantly, and a nice piece of tech to boot – but when switching from physical books to e-books do we lose something meaningful that’s too subtle to spot? I was reading Azeem Azher’s blog “Why I am ditching my kindle”, where he talks about the elements of reading he lost when he moved to reading on a kindle. Sure, there’s probably technically a way to dog-ear a page or make notes in the margin, but it’s not as fluid and tactile as with a physical book. We are all convinced that e-readers are “better” because of all the advantages, but sometimes the things we lose in the transition are the things that matter most. Azeem switched back to physical books and found that he’s more engaged with the material he’s reading.
As I make my way through Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, my arms might strain and the weight of the book, but my mind delights at the interplay of the physical and visual that takes me deeper into the prose.
Another fight in the world of switching from physical to digital is in note making – going “paperless” in productivity. This is something I’ve experimented with in many ways, not just to save the planet (which obviously is always a good thing), but to become more organised, not lose anything important, and generally tidy up all the stacks of paper on my desk. Evernote has been a great help with this, but I find it most helpful when organising things that are already in the digital world, such as web pages, emails, PDFs. When it comes to making notes in a more creative way, I find that something is missing. It’s difficult to describe what, but the ideas just don’t flow as easily. I hit a point where I need to draw a model, or refer back to something I wrote previously. In the interest of keeping things moving, I reach for my note pad.
This concept is something we’ve been thinking about deeply at Skilful.co. We want to bring management training to people online, make it accessible and make it work better. It would be easy just to record training, stream it in a video, and say “done”, but there are far too many subtle points that’d we’d miss if we didn’t think about all of the reasons why people take part in training, what makes it really productive, and also why they enjoy it. Maybe people enjoy aspects training because it gives them a chance to get out of the office for the day – maybe it’s a good way to clear your head? Maybe it’s a great way to meet other people and network? Are people going to be OK training online if they’re sitting in an open-plan office? Do they select a training provider not only because they’re good at delivering the subject matter but because they can ask questions and get help? These are some of the subtle points we’re looking at when asking people to consider moving their training online. And rather than just asking ourselves “how can we do all this online?” we need to ask “how can it be better online?”.