Last week there was a very interesting piece on the New York Times’ Room for Debate blog that featured five great essays about how the reading experience differs between paper and digital books. In the piece by Sandra Aamodt, it notes that people typically read about 20-30 percent slower on screen than they do on paper. However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that people can read as quickly on e-readers as they do on paper due the E Ink screen and lack of backlighting. Aamodt suggests that as technology improves, electronic reading could be as useful as paper for most purposes.
Two of the other essays take a look at the effect that digital reading could have for children. In the piece by Maryanne Wolf, she says that her greatest concern is that children will not read deeper into the text after the first decoding because they will become distracted by the sidebars or videos that sit alongside the text. Wolf notes, “The child’s imagination and children’s nascent sense of probity and introspection are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. The attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it.” Another piece by Gloria Mark expresses similar thoughts. Mark comments, “I wonder about young people, who do not know of a life before the Internet, and who, growing up “digitized,” might not prefer reading online where they are the pilots of their own information pathways. More and more, studies are showing how adept young people are at multitasking. But the extent to which they can deeply engage with the online material is a question for further research.”
All of the pieces provide some interesting thoughts and comparisons and are worth a read.