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I think for reading fiction, ereaders are great, bascially because you read straight through and illustrations/ equations are not important.

I find for technical books, paper is far superior. The layout is much better for graphics/ equations, plus the traditional layout of a book (with some post it stickies) is optimized for easy navigation/ jumping back and forth.

One thing I miss about paper books is their three-dimensionality. If you are an experienced reader, knowing where you are in the thickness of a book is just as important for navigating the book as a whole as where you are in any given page. And I don't think the GUI bookmarks work quite as well as paper, personally.

Really, it is all about fractions of a second, but it adds up.

(Personally, I don't care about the aesthetics, feel and smell of the paper, blah blah, I just still think paper technical books win for .)

I feel like we're on the cusp of being able to have a qualitatively better technical book using interactive media instead of page flipping, but to date this has not materialized. For casual introductions (i.e. browsing wikipedia) a phone or table is fine, but a technical book that seeks to lead the reader from basic understanding to deep knowledge remains tantalizingly out of reach for anything but a physical paper book.

Being able to rapidly backtrack and sidetrack seems to be the critical issue; paper allows you to do this so easily with a thumb or other improvised bookmark. Hypertext and forward/back navigation and tabs seems like it would be perfect for this, but it doesn't quite work.

Learning effectively from a technical book has to be like lazily reading a detective novel -- you have to be willing to look at the ending. You do this before you're in a place to understand it, and then build up that foundation to the point where it supports what the end goal is going to be. Maybe it's a question of having a writer who can make this idea a first-class one, by repetition and backtracking in a forward direction; effectively first presenting page 8, then 4, then 2, then 1, then 2, then 8, then 2, then 3, then 1, then 4, or some similar scheme to allow the reader to shore up their understanding, while allowing them to skim through parts that seem boring or are too confusing, with the knowledge that they'll have another chance to review the material, without having to manually backtrack.

I have been thinking about this in the context of my own reading habits and how they have changed over time.

I have read textbooks with a lot of patience spending way more time per page, letting the content sink in, thinking about it, taking notes on the bitsy corners of the book etc. However, these days as a professional, when I read tech books, I could see myself rushing for facts, and "how-to"s instead of deeper reading. May be I'm getting older? Wiser? Falling into Attention Deficit Disorder? I don't know. But, I do know that if a tech book does "8,4,2,1,2,8,2,3,1,4" like you said, I'm lost at third step, finding something else where I can get my facts quick...

This is where interactive books could jump in and help keep the attention in place with more relevant information in view instead of needing repetition.

I remember Apple tried something with a free app called iBooks Author. I need to spend more time with it and see if I can make use of it for some tech stuff.

The content being a website with hyperlinks would solve most of this. Keep pages open in tabs and bookmark them.

The act of clicking on links and adding bookmarks, well, just doesn't feel the same as interacting with a physical book. I think the 3 dimensionality of the book adds intuition, cues, and a coherence that are lacking in the free for all of hyperlinks.

I also think an experienced reader can navigate more quickly (yes fraction of seconds) in a physical book than possible when you have to set bookmarks and use them in some drop down system.

I would love to see a human factors study comparing hyperlink eReader versus paper book.

Relatedly, my tabletop RPG group is about to start a new campaign, and for the first time I've finally picked up a paper copy of the players guide. Just gets so tiresome paging back and forth through PDFs and 25 browser tabs to find what I want to reference. Much happier to just have a physical book with a dozen sticky note bookmarks poking out of it.

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