Thursday, April 12, 2018

Print versus digital

I'm reading a report about the differences in comprehension and analytical thought between digital and print (ironically, I'm reading it digitally on a MacBook Pro!). After pages of conflicting studies and evidence of reader preferences, here's what he says:
How is the current threat of digital distraction any greater when reading an e-book versus a print codex? Isn’t it just as easy to put down a print book and pick up a tablet or smartphone as it is to close out your e-reading app and start browsing Facebook? The answer, in my view, is no, and again I return to neuroplasticity. The digital environment is literally rewiring our brains to seek stimulative, short-­term gratification at the expense of our ability to think and read in depth. In this situation, how much more challenging is it to read at length on the very same screen from which your brain expects quick scanning, 140-­character tweets, and amusing cat videos than it is to read from a printed page or on a dedicated e-reader that does not offer such opportunities for distraction?

Thus the digital reading environment offers not a difference in degree but a difference in kind, one that is transformational in nature rather than evolutionary. As the digital age unfolds, it is likely to substantially alter both the nature of reading and the nature of the book itself as deep linear reading fades in importance and functional tabular reading becomes more widespread than ever. This will in turn alter the way people write and even the ways they think, leading to a likely decline of deep analytical thought for the purpose of forming broad conceptual frameworks in favor of a more immediate, purely functional form of decision-­oriented thinking based on rapidly acquired snippets of information.—Reading in a Digital Age doi: (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I agree. I read voluminously—both digitally and in print—and I know it is much easier to get distracted when I'm reading on a screen. Take this study as an example. I keep getting distracted by incoming email. I get tempted to check this or that. Not so when I grab a book. Consequently, I remember better what I read in print than what I read digitally.
</idle musing>

1 comment:

Tim Bulkeley said...

This rings true, except for two things:
first, he somehow sees reading on an e-reader as non-digital thus he redefines digital to suit himself
second, if the use of multipurpose screens like laptops and tablets rewires us for short attention spans that affects paper reading.

I'd also note that in the 70s the shortening of attention spans due to TV was heralded as the end of civilisation as we knew it - perhaps it was, but we seem to be coping...