Book of the future is a slow read


February 24, 1992|By Mike Langberg | Mike Langberg,Knight-Ridder News Service

Living in the future sometimes requires a lot of patience.

In a four-day stint last month, I read the novel "Jurassic Park" by Michael Crichton from beginning to end on an Apple PowerBook 100 laptop computer to test the new "expanded books" from Voyager Co.

I read the book in exactly the way I do all my pleasure reading -- stretched out on the sofa, lying in bed and, occasionally, sneaking a moment at my desk in the newsroom when no editors were nearby.

To my surprise, it wasn't hard to adjust to reading on the lap-top's 7.5-inch by 5-inch backlighted display screen. There was none of the eye strain that typically comes from long bouts of reading on a CRT-type display. And the PowerBook was light enough at 5.2 pounds that I could easily shift into any position -- I even tilted the computer on its side while reading in bed.

There was, however, a big problem with time.

Turning a page on the computer version of "Jurassic Park" took an excruciating three seconds, compared with the fraction of a second it takes to turn the page of a conventional book. Three seconds may not sound like much, but the expanded book pages are only half the size of regular printed pages -- so "Jurassic Park" on the PowerBook has 928 pages, compared with 400 in the paperback edition.

Waiting three seconds for each of those 928 pages to turn was a constant frustration, breaking the normal pace of reading. I tried to get around the problem by hitting the page-turn button while I was still several lines from the bottom, but occasionally the page would turn too quickly and I'd have to go back.

Other functions of the expanded books are equally time-consuming. To start reading, from the time I turned on the PowerBook until I finally accessed the spot where I had left off, took 1 minute and 45 seconds.

In "The Complete Annotated Alice" version of "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, calling up an annotation took 20 ++ seconds.

Once I was done reading the annotation, the PowerBook required eight seconds to return to the original text.

Still, the week I spent lugging the PowerBook back and forth from the office was fun. Colleagues kept stopping by my desk to play with the computer and read a few pages of text. I continually amazed my friends by calling up illustrations of the dinosaurs described in "Jurassic Park," each illustration supplemented by the simulated cry of the animal -- gentle chirping for little dinosaurs, throaty growls for the mighty Tyrannosaur rex.

NB Would I do it again? Maybe. If I owned a PowerBook, instead of

just borrowing one from Apple, and carried it while traveling, I might include an expanded book.

More to the point, perhaps, I'd be eager to try again after book-reading technology takes a few more steps forward -- especially if a "page-turner" like "Jurassic Park" doesn't leave me doing a slow burn.

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