The Future

A Good Place: An entire free library on your phone

Now that book collections manifest in apps, you can retreat to browsing the stacks and cracking open a new book, for free, anywhere you want.
The Future

A Good Place: An entire free library on your phone

Now that book collections manifest in apps, you can retreat to browsing the stacks and cracking open a new book, for free, anywhere you want.

The internet is too much,
but this place is just right.

Earlier this year, I spent a week rereading every book in the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry for the first time since I had last checked them out from my local library sometime in the ’90s. Diving back into The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler had prompted my recollection of Anastasia and her delightfully weird Boston family; the floodgates of my childhood had opened and I was suddenly wondering if a lot of books from my past still had the ability to soothe me.

In the past, reconstructing this experience meant heading miles away from New York City to dig through the boxes in my mother’s basement. But pulling this old blanket of calm over my body, no matter whether it is jostling around a crowded subway car or comfortably resting in a bed at the end of the day, has become far more instantaneous than that: I just open an app stocked with publicly-available library books called SimplyE, search for my heart’s desire, click a button, and begin to read right then and there.

I discovered SimplyE, a product developed for the New York Public Library and several other library systems, a few years ago before a trip to Southeast Asia, when I knew I’d need lots of easily-accessible reading material. I immediately became a rabid convert to the electronic check-out. Downloading e-books isn’t exactly a new technology, and wasn’t entirely foreign to me. Several years back, when I lived in Chicago, I’d check out books through Amazon or Overdrive via the Chicago Public Library on my computer or various tablet-esque devices.

Screenshots from the SimplyE app, where I can browse and check out books to read on the spot or save for later.

Screenshots from the SimplyE app, where I can browse and check out books to read on the spot or save for later.

But SimplyE (the simply makes sense, the E much less so. Electronic? What? SimpleeEEeeEEeeee) is different. Before, checking out an e-book was a journey: figuring out if a book was available in e-book form on the CPL website, logging in to my library account, requesting it, going to either Amazon or Overdrive to check it out, and finally downloading it via whatever app it was compatible with (and there are a few). There have been a lot of improvements to that system in recent years; Overdrive in particular seems to have partially realized what a mess it was, and now instead of the previously described byzantine process, it has two different apps for downloading books across various libraries. But SimplyE works across libraries as well, and I prefer it because it agnostically presents books from the various vendors said library uses (and also, well, I found it first). Regardless, being able to browse, check out, and download books all in one place has improved how much I “read for pleasure,” and by extension, my daily mood.

SimplyeE is a modern incarnation of my experience at a physical library, a comfortable place I used to wander in to kill time after school before swim team practice started. Sometimes it means diving deep into the world of YA lit, as I am right now. Sometimes it’s feeling the satisfaction of reading something I’ve known I was supposed to for awhile but couldn’t drag myself to.

Something happened that I didn’t realize was possible: I started to neglect to do something I loved.

I was a voracious reader before college, where I was force-fed a diet of too much Immanuel Kant and discovered a new technology called high-speed WiFi that allowed me to watch television on my computer whenever I wanted. My jobs since college have also been mostly reading; even if that reading is largely non-fiction and not more than 5,000 words at a time, it’s burned me out on the activity. By lucking into a profession I enjoy, something happened that I didn’t realize was possible: I started to neglect to do something I loved.

Now I have SimplyE as my training wheels, my place where I can read (not watch) whenever I want. Even if there’s WiFi or lots of room on my phone for downloads, books are entertainment-dense compared to video, extremely lightweight and quick to download. I’ll be somewhere killing time, wanting to avoid my own dreaded thoughts, and so I’ll open the app, browse around, and start on something entirely new. A podcast I’m enjoying might mention a book, and I can pop into the app to reserve it as a nice surprise for myself later when I’ve forgotten all about it. If I get to a restaurant earlier than I'm supposed to, I always have something to look at that isn’t the news, that doesn’t make me vacillate wildly between sorrow and extreme anxiety with a few dashes of laughter thrown in there. Instead, I'm that extremely adult person sitting with a book and a nice glass of wine, finding myself disappointed when my companion arrives.

SimplyE isn’t anywhere near the best designed app or the most organized; my one major complaint is that it doesn’t track everything you’ve historically checked out. It doesn’t have every book I want, a situation that probably seems blasphemous to many who value living in a place where anything you want can be in your hands or at your doorstep within seconds or hours above most everything else. My friends think I’m insane for reading full books on a screen as small as my phone. But as we are always searching for the perfect distraction, I find the tiny shortcomings of SimplyE are outweighed by its most important quality: I can open it up at any time and shut off everything else for awhile. Before I know it, the train is at my stop, and I get off and return to the rest of the world.

It’s my personal library, in my hand, for that moment. And should I be secretly craving the serotonin rush that comes with a like, that feeling is available in one of its original incarnations: when you’re on the waiting list for a book you can’t wait to devour, it’s finally returned and you get it all to yourself. For free.

The Future

A Good Place: Mr. Carlson’s electronics YouTube makes every problem seem manageable

It takes 47 minutes to fix an oscillope, but we know how to do it, and more importantly, we learn even hard problems eventually get solved.
Read More
Kate Dries is a features editor at Vice in New York.
Hey you! We want to know what you think about The Outline (and you can win some cool swag too). We know you love to answer questions, so take our 5 minute survey.