I’m going to be honest, I love books. Very few things can compete with the feel and weight of a good novel. It is hard to imagine replicating those sensations with a digital device, especially when it comes to in depth reading. One hundred years from now, will our descendants recognize a paper book? Today, with toddlers more adept at using an iPad than their grandparents, we begin to wonder if technology is changing the way we think and read. Ferris Jabr delved into the psychology of how we approach reading in his article Why The Brain Prefers Paper. The current research appears divided on reading comprehension with various mediums, although the intrinsic biases we possess may influence whether we excel with either paper or digital reading. The main stumbling block to comprehension may be the devices themselves; with a book, you approach with intent to read and only ready. Electronic devices used for reading are not as clear cut, we have been unconsciously trained by years of use to think of any electronic device as open to multitasking. The overall mental attitude is much broader, as “people often approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conductive to learning than the one they bring to paper” (Jabr 2013). How can a reader solely focus on reading when emails, messages and notifications are beckoning? Those bells and whistles are not built into paperbacks.
The physical feel of a book itself lends to the overall comprehension and satisfaction. Readers remember where parts of a passage are in a book like one would remember where a place is on a map. Those mental markers lend themselves to understanding the writing as a whole; readers “report that when trying to locate a particular passage . . . they often remember where in the text it appeared” (Jabr 2013). The book actually becomes a journey the reader travels, tracking their progress with a “mental map” of the text. Even the act of writing is pivotal to learning, evidence that we retain knowledge when writing notes by hand rather than typing them on a keyboard. In Kevin Clark’s article The Cleveland Browns’ Strategy: Write This Down, coach Mike Pettine is encouraging hand written notes for his players since studies show “writing by hand instead of typing improves your chances of learning something” (Clark 2014). In additio n, one of the studies Ferris Jabr discusses from the Indiana University Bloomington shows children are mentally processing he act of writing on paper, but typing on a keyboard lacked any similar response (Jabr 2013).
Reading on an electronic device can be physically and mentally demanding. Illuminated screens strain the eyes and constant scrolling can be an ever occurring distraction, especially if a reader is unable to see pages in their entirety (Keim 2014). Sustained reading becomes more difficult on a device, and the larger pieces of text without any defined break structure seem the most taxing. The more time that is taken away for “moving through a text, the less is available for understanding it” (Jabr 2013). Ideally, a device will be designed to more resemble a book, allowing readers to effortlessly flip a page. While some people may alter their readying style depending on the medium, overall, electronic devices can result in more fractured reading. The exception is when reading under a deadline in a short period of time, both digital and paper appear to be equal contenders with “no obvious difference” in academic experiments (Keim 2014). But when it comes to deeper reading, paper lends itself to the audience knowing what they read rather than remembering snippets.
To some, electronic devices have been a blessing, a sufferer of poor vision welcomes the ability to increase font size and individuals with dyslexia are able to read when the amount of visible text is adjustable. The key for success seems to lie in “personal preference” (Keim 2014), if a reader prefers a screen to paper they will flourish with their medium of choice and vice versa. For me, the feel of curling up with a good book wins every time.
Jabr, Ferris. “Why the Brain Prefers Paper.” Scientific American 309.5 (2013): 48-53. <http://www.nature.com/scientificamerican/journal/v309/n5/full/scientificamerican1113-48.html>.
Clark, Kevin. “The Cleveland Browns’ Strategy: Write This Down.” WSJ Online. August 11, 2014.<http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-cleveland-browns-strategy-write-this-down-1407795873>
Keim, Brandon. “Why the Smart Reading Device of the Future May Be…Paper.” Wired. May 1 2014.Web. <http://www.wired.com/2014/05/reading-on-screen-versus-paper/>.