Weekend thoughts: Digital vs paper-based reading

Digital vs Paper-based reading

People have strong opinions about digital reading vs paper-based reading. It has produced thought-provoking videos like this1

In an article, “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books“, the author states, “A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback”2. Although it would be interesting to know how the study was done because there are so many variables that could have had an impact on the outcome of the study, I think it comes down to what is the best tool for the job – the important question we need to ask ourselves about the use of any digital technology in education and our personal lives.

Sometimes the “old” is better than the “new”. For example, a friend of mine (who is a science educator) has switched from reading his Kindle in the evening to reading paper-based books instead (based on a study he has read) and his sleep has improved remarkably.

I am not terribly convinced that when we replace paper-and-pen-based technology with digital technology that it is always beneficial. How often do we take into account what science tell us about the best way to engage with a certain activity?

I wonder how many of our technological conveniences come into existence because of mankind’s insatiable desire for new things and other people’s desire to make money out of us …

Is it possible that many of us have engaged with digital reading because it is convenient and the marketing around digital reading has been cleverly focused around convenience, e.g. easy to carry books around, easy to pay, available to us via apps on our smart devices that we carry around everywhere, but we have not considered whether it does its advertised job well? I don’t expect a lot of studies to say anything about this. Companies like Amazon will not be terribly happy if scientific research shows that paper-based reading is superior to digital reading – let’s not kid ourselves: in the end it is all about profits.

I find it fascinating that it is quite likely that most(?) of the people who are designing digital technology today have had a school education with a massive focus on paper-and-pen-based technology. So how do they know that the digital “equivalent” is indeed an equivalent to the education they have had? I am not advocating industrial-model education by the way …

My point is this: if economics is ‘forcing’ the education community to use digital technology and the education community are not critically engaging with science to understand the advantages or disadvantages of said technology, we may unwittingly limit the next generation’s potential to make a meaningful contribution to society.

To conclude, here is more food for thought from Sherry Turkle3.

Ps. There is of course incredible irony in the way I am communicating this message … 🙂

References and notes:
1. Experience the power of a cookbook™ – https://youtu.be/MOXQo7nURs0
2. Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books. Retrieved from http://mic.com/articles/99408/science-has-great-news-for-people-who-read-actual-books#.AWarwgxuV
3. Connected, but not alone? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv0g8TsnA6c

Photo credit: ©athrine via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA


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