Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Writing (& Reading?) Books on Mobile Phones"

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a news report about a recent series of books published that were written with cell phones. The report featured one of the writers; showing her walking down the street and inputting text on her cell phone with 90% of her attention on the device and the remaining 10% on navigating the street... saying that she always takes her cell phone wherever she goes and she always writes with it. I watched the smiling "Isn't that wonderful!!" reporters and couldn't help thinking "That's cute... think what she could have done with proper tools!".

And then I received this e-mail from an e-pal in the US:

"I read that Japan is caught-up in reading books on their cell phones. Sure, why not wear out one's thumbs. It's just like I've said, 'Young people don't read BOOKS' - they are reading cell phones."

And I thought of the extension of the "Isn't that wonderful!!" local reporters: "Isn't that bizarre!!" (what those people in a foreign land are doing) reporters overseas. There is some truth to both reports, but it's like a workmate said when I brought this up: "You know the media's motto - 'Never let the truth get in the way of a good story'!"

So - on to the truth:

Writing books with a cell phone is an extraordinarily inefficient way of writing. In the case of the woman who is perpetually walking around Tokyo with her eyes, thumb and mind glued to her cell phone, if she used proper writing tools, she could write the same amount in a fifth of the time at home, and then be free to actually enjoy life outside instead of being a slave to her beloved tiny electronic gizmo. (Taking electronic notes makes sense, but writing whole books that way?)

There probably are some people out there on the Tokyo trains reading books on their cell phones, but I've yet to see a single solitary soul doing so - and I spend three and a half hours a day riding eight different trains (with some extra trips, it comes to around 20 hours per week). I always glance at the many people around me and I see people using their cell phones all the time, but the only two activities I see are sending and receiving e-mail and playing video games (talking on a phone is nearly unheard of now on the trains).

Of the people on the train who are reading books (ever fewer it seems), I'm sure some of them might like to read them on their cell phones if they could (overcrowding on the trains makes it impossible to hold a book much of the time), but availability, DRM roadblocks to free use, etc. make paper-based books the easier & better choice for most people. (PDA's with larger screens are another category - but there is overlap between cell phones and PDA's now, so are future devices even cell phones really, or should they be considered full fledged computers with voice capability?)

Anyway - the real issue here is how can you get accurate news? For local news you either get "Isn't that horrible!" or "Isn't that wonderful/cute!" (to balance the "Isn't that horrible!" parts). For foreign news, you either get "Isn't that horrible!" or "Isn't that strange?!" The bland truth in the middle is studiously ignored. The tragedy here is that truth is actually stranger that fiction, but it takes perception and effort to see it. The stuff that passes for "news" is like fast food - entertaining at the moment it's consumed, but of no value.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon