Last year I was gifted a Kindle. I've never had an eBook reader before. Obviously, I needed something to read on it, otherwise what's the point of having one. And that's when I first encountered this problem. How do I determine which books I should buy as an eBook, as opposed to a printed book?
There's pros and cons to getting either format. But that's not what this post is about. In this post I want to share the criteria I use, to determine whether to buy a printed copy of a book, or the eBook version of it.
That criteria revolves around the contents of the book. The question I ask myself is, “Are the contents of this book subject to change in the future?”
A heavy influence on why I write down so many notes, and with so much detail in them, is this idea that if you have to re-read a source twice, then you didn't take down notes correctly. So in the past, I would feel like a failure if I had to re-read a book, because it meant that I didn't take down notes correctly.
This idea, if memory serves me right, came from the book “How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers” by Sönke Ahrens.
If you're not familiar with the PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) space, this book is recommended reading for anyone wanting to get into Zettelkasten or PKM in general. And so of course I read it and tried to incorporate what I've learned from the book into my note taking process.
This idea though, of not having to re-read source material because you took down notes correctly the first time, goes against another idea I ran into recently from James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) — that idea is to actively re-read books. James argues that great books are worth re-reading. And you know what, I agree with him.
Stab a Book, the Book Won't Die by Craig Mod is a great read on the value of physical books. He presents an interesting idea that I've never thought of before — entering into contracts with the media that we consume.
What kind of contract do you opt into when reading a physical book? What about reading a blog? Or watching a YouTube video? Or what about consuming content through social media news feeds?
The simplest contract can be had with physical books. You buy the book and you can read it anytime you want. The book will not try to harvest your data, or serve you ads, or track your habits, or build an online profile out of your online activities. The book will be there for you to read, when you want to read it. It is as simple a contract as can be.
On the other hand, using say your smartphone to read books, blog posts, essays is a totally different contract. Now you're exposed to ads. Now your behavior is being tracked. Now your data is getting mined, etc... All sorts of things happen behind the scenes, some of which we most likely don't even want to be involved in.
It's a good reminder to re-examine the contracts that we are entering into, when we choose to consume information the way that we do today.