Paper or E-Reader?
How Technology Has Changed Our Relationship with Books
I would like to thank Penny Dreadful Books Reviews for publishing this article. Not only do they provide insightful reviews, but they also provide humorous analysis of books and TV shows. Check out their Dreadfully Good section for a list of their favourite books.
By Christine – As smartphones, tablets and e-readers become more ingrained into society, e-books have become a popular reading standard. After all, you are able to carry almost a library’s worth of books in a device that fits neatly into a backpack or briefcase. It isn’t just its compact form that makes e-books attractive. Unlike print books, you can adjust the font style, size, contrast, color and even look up words with the built-in dictionary. At a basic level, it might seem like personalization and ease of use might be the only differences between e-books and print, but the changes run deeper than that.
Since personal computers first became available in the late 1980s, researchers have investigated how the brain responds differently to screen text versus words on paper. A 2014 study found readers using a Kindle were worse at recalling the order of events in a novel than those who read a paperback.
Although the exact reason why is unclear, researchers postulate it is due to the lack of tactile and haptic feedback when reading an e-book. With a regular book, readers have a visual sense of progress in the form of pages. They can see and feel how far they have read; e-books do not offer the same sort of sensory input. Unsurprisingly, one of the many reasons why people prefer printed books over e-books is because of all the sensory input from the actual heft of the book to the smell of the pages.
Shorter Reading Time
Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is in how people read. Those who read e-books tend to do so in shorter bursts, leading to a more fragmented experience. After all, when reading on devices with internet access such as smartphones or tablets, it’s all too easy to get distracted by that incoming email or checking Twitter.
This leads to poor reading comprehension and retention of information. Both require long, undisturbed chunks of time. Interestingly, this habit has carried over to the printed book as well. Many people will read a book in short bursts whether they’re waiting in line, on lunch break or during their morning train commute.
Although still just a theory, some studies suggest the reason why people multitask more on screens than papers is that they subconsciously view reading on a computer or tablet as less serious than reading on paper. Many people take shortcuts such as browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords rather than taking the time to read the entire page or even paragraph. Rather than understand the entire section, this basic scan only provides a very shallow overview.
Benefits of E-Readers
While this might seem to spell doom for the e-book, the truth is most of these issues come down to habit. Books have been around for centuries and, until the past decade, have been the only option available. For many adults, transitioning over from the physical to digital realm comes with its own challenges, such as navigating a new user interface.
The younger generation who grew up in the digital age often does not have the same issues. They view e-books as simply another way to read their favorite books. In fact, young, reluctant readers actually prefer e-readers over traditional books as e-readers share more in common with tablets and smartphones than a book. It’s easier for them to use, and flipping through the pages of an e-book is far less intimidating than cracking open a 1,000-page book.
It isn’t only young readers who do better with e-books though. Those with poor eyesight or reading disorders benefit from e-readers as they can adjust the size of the text and spacing of the lines. A study found dyslexic subjects fared much better with e-readers as they were able to format the text in a way that made it easier for them to focus on a few words per line. This improved their reading ability almost instantly.
For avid readers, there are also thousands of independent authors offering their books for low prices—sometimes even free! It’s an amazing way to build up a library without having to spend thousands of dollars a year on a new paperback. The biggest problem with e-books is availability in geo-restricted areas. Depending on where you live or if you happen to be travelling, you may not be able to download a book due to censorship or simple geo-blocking. In those cases, you can use a VPN software such as ExpressVPN to get around these restrictions and download whatever books you want.
Whether you’re in the print book or e-book camp, there are pros and cons to each one, so choosing the best one for you depends on your circumstances. For the moment, traditional books don’t seem to be going anywhere. In fact, sales have risen since 2012, and even young students veer more to print for their textbooks. While digital books have certainly changed the way we read for now, once the technology has integrated itself fully into society, it’s possible all of the issues people currently experience with e-books will disappear.
How do you think technology has changed our relationship with books? Tell us in the comments below.
About the Author: Caroline is a freelance writer who finds the intersection between literature and technology fascinating. She loves both traditional and e-books and hopes to spread her love of the written word to everyone who will listen.