E-books were supposed to be preferred over textbooks by now. For a variety of reasons; however, printed versions of books still prevail. For decades, researchers have been focusing their studies on how people utilize, comprehend, and process digital and paper reading material.
In recent years, researchers continued their investigation of the effectiveness and efficiency of paper text compared to digital text (such as e-books, tablets, personal computers, and laptops). Some of their conclusions are surprising.
From Hieroglyphics to E-Books
Our brains were not designed for reading. Human beings don’t have pre-programmed genes for reading, like there are for vision and language.
Thanks to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper, and the Gutenberg press we’ve adapted and created new circuits in our brains in order to understand texts and letters.
Prior to the emergence of the Internet, our brains read predominately in linear ways, reading one page at a time before moving on to the next page. Distractions were minimal.
When we read text using e-book devices, tablets, laptops or desktop computers we must juggle multiple distractions (hypertext, e-mails, videos, and pop-up advertisements). In addition, a simple movement like swiping a finger on the screen or readjusting the mouse leads to moving our attention away from what’s being read. These interruptions may seem minor, but they nonetheless adversely affect our comprehension, reading speed, and accuracy.
Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading, had the following comment to say to the WASHINGTON POST:
“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling, and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you. We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”
Some of the consequences consist of how e-books, computers, and tablets reduce our reading speed and comprehension. Researchers found people comprehend the material they read on paper better than they do on e-books.
The need to comprehend is very important; especially, regarding work and school. Even though today’s children and college students are computer savvy, the majority of them prefer printed versions of text over e-books.
Moreover, Cornell University researchers found that both users and non-users of e-books generally preferred using printed versions of textbooks, since they plan to use them continuously.
Variations in How We Read
There are several different variations to reading. For instance, there are no measurable differences between e-books and paper text when it comes to reading short passages. However, studies show students remember more when reading from paper rather than a screen.
Anne Mangen, literacy professor at Norway’s University of Stavenger, explained more about reading to WIRED:
“Reading is human-technology interaction. Perhaps the tactility and physical permanence of paper yields a different cognitive and emotional experience; reading that can’t be done in snippets, scanning here and there, but requires sustained attention.”
For example, it seems that feeling pages and smelling the book awakens something in the human subconscious. Marilyn Jager-Adams, literacy expert and cognitive psychologist at Brown University, offers this explanation:
“All those cues like what the page looks like, what the book felt like, all those little pieces help you put together the whole thing. And they are just impoverished on a Kindle or tablet.”
E-books do not allow the readers a variety of annotations (like scribbling in the margins, dog-earing, and underlining), which for many people is essential to deep reading. There’s nothing tangible to engage our other senses.
E-books do have comparable elements, like percentage-remaining figures or symbolic progress bars, to mimic this experience. However, rather than tactile incentives, these elements are merely visual (or illusory). Additionally, rather than pages coming in pairs, e-books and tablets are apt to be displayed individually – which limits spatial representation. E-books and tablets offer just a single page, which is re-written constantly, over and over.
The variation between e-books and paper really comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer reading on a computer screen, whereas others rather prefer to read from the printed versions. It’s too difficult to predict whether people will choose to read paper books for deep reading and tangible reasons or favor e-books in the future. MIC NETWORK reported that three-quarters of Americans (18 and older) read at least one book in the past year. E-books currently account for 15 to 20 percent of all book sales.
Can you guess what e-books they read?