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Things have been quiet in the print versus digital debate lately for which I am glad, what’s the saying about beating a dead horse? I do understand that there is still much we don’t know about our brains and how reading online and reading in print affects how we read, what we read and how well we read it and I am grateful that the debate is heading down that river and away from the techno-evangelist’s books are dead digital utopia. But because it has been awhile since there has been anything “out there” about it, someone had to write an update about where we stand just in case we forget. And like a moth to the flame I had to fly right for it.

Everythig Science Knows about Reading on Screens is pretty much a summary to-date. You won’t find anything new or revelatory in the article unless you are one of the few readers in the world who have somehow managed to be disconnected from it all (and if you are that sort of reader, you have my admiration!).

What is most striking about this article is how it proves a number of things about reading on screens that it discusses. Like skimming. The presentation of the article invites it with blurry moving things on the header and cutting up the text of the article. I almost didn’t finish reading the article because all of the moving blurs were giving me a headache! The article quotes Ziming Liu, a researcher at San Jose State University:

Liu noted in his study that sustained attention seems to decline when people read onscreen rather than on paper, and that people also spend less time on in-depth reading. ‘In digital, we can link in different media, images, sound, and other text, and people can get overwhelmed,” explains Andrew Dillon, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas, Austin, “These are disruptive activities that can carry a cost in terms of attention.’

Ironically, this falls immediately below one of the big, moving blurry blocks! Distracting, check! Overwhelming, check!

We’ve been trained by internet articles like this one. It isn’t necessarily that I want to skim or that I purposely interrupt my reading with distractions, it’s the way words have been presented on the internet since websites were invented that has made me read this way on a screen. So is it any surprise then when given an article or story to read on a screen even without all of the attendant internet bling that I might read it just as though all that bling were there?

The article concludes:

Despite the apparent benefits of paper, Mangen and other reading researchers caution the screen-reading vs. traditional reading question has nuances that scientists have yet to fully understand. Which method works better may depend on the individual (for example, there’s evidence that for some people with dyslexia, e-readers improve reading speed and comprehension). Ultimately, it may be that both print and screen have unique advantages, and we’ll need to be able to read equally well on both—which means keeping our distracted habits onscreen from bleeding into what we read on an e-book or paperback. And reading researchers have some advice for how to prevent this: forget your smartphone and computer, sit down, and read a book.

Common sense. But I have to stop myself decrying the painfully obvious conclusion because common sense isn’t always a strong point for a good many people I have found, especially those getting grants to study the things that avid readers already know and could have told them without any trouble. Should it ever happen that researchers ask us one of these days about print and digital reading, someone is going to have to pick me up off the floor because I will have fainted.

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