Final Project

Further Thoughts on Digital vs. Print Reading

Danielle Nicholson

After reading "The Deep Space of Digital Reading" by La Farge and taking notes on it, I was especially intrigued by the idea of comparing digital and print reading. After reading La Farge's article, I came to the conclusion that digital reading can expand our humanity and is, overall, beneficial for society. Personally, both print and digital reading work well for me in various situations. I was very interested in the content of the article and thought it would be interesting to read -- digitally -- a few different (new) perspectives on the issue.

From the higher education perspective, an article by Sharon O'Malley titled "There's No Easy Answer," includes the opinion of Wayne Kobylinski, an English professor from Anne Arundel Community College. He believes students should be able to choose between digital and print. Kobylinksi says his students "feel printed material "carries more of a sense of gravitas" than digital. "That makes sense for college students. Kobylinski seems to think that since students (myself included) are constantly reading on digital communication platforms and social media, reading in print makes the content and the act feel more important. Digital reading is a bit easier to write off. Professor Jody Donovan from Colorado State University says her graduate students "overwhelmingly prefer "everything electronic. They don't want a hard copy of anything. Donovan also believes her online students refer more to digital readings than her face-to-face students refer to print readings in class. However, despite convenience and preference, Donovan is not sure how to actually improve comprehension through digital reading. Students haven't necessarily been trained to do that. I think this could be due to the current generation of those in higher education not being directly exposed to technology at a very young age. Most of us still remember landlines with cords, gigantic cell phones, and monstrous desktop computers. We did not grow up navigating and reading on iPads in the classroom, so there could be a comprehension curve. I think my generation mostly has quick learners when it comes to technology, but that is not the case for everyone, and that does not necessarily change the ways our brains have developed and will continue to develop.

From the popular culture perspective, Ferris Jabr's article "The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens" uses an example of a one-year-old girl first using an iPad with surprising dexterity and then being given a magazine, which she tried to navigate simply by touch as if it was an iPad. Although Jabr acknowledges that one-year-olds touch whatever they can get their hands on, and perhaps the child did not fully comprehend what she was doing, it still provides an interesting study. Jabr says, "Today's so-called digital natives still interact with a mix of paper magazines and books, as well as tablets, smartphones and e-readers; using one kind of technology does not preclude them from understanding another." People use different types of reading materials for different purposes. According to the article, "Studies published since the early 1990s ... have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens." Interesting. What's also interesting is that Jabr's article also mentions that many people, not just students, approach paper reading with more reverence than digital reading. For students, however, there are some links between handwritten notes and retention. Jabr also mentions that words on paper have a more familiar topography; a sort of physical form that's more concrete, easier to remember, and more conducive to reference. There's more control. For example, although it's declining, you could flip back to a section of a newspaper and tell your friend about an interesting news story you read, perhaps more easily than you would if you saw it online somewhere. Personally, I frequently find myself saying "I read this article somewhere, I can't remember where..." when referencing either the social media feed the article appeared on or referencing the actual publication itself. It's a bit easier to flip a few pages back. This could also be due to the act of physically holding something. Again, the ability to share news stories through a text message or an email is extremely convenient. As said above, people use different reading materials for different purposes.

There are definite benefits to going paperless. Apart from the convenience and preference factors, it's better for the environment and the economy. Printing books and producing paper releases carbon dioxide into the air. One tree only provides 17 reams of paper. I've seen that many come in one shipment in the offices I've worked in. As for the economy, going digital is the cheaper option for companies. The same goals can be achieved without copious amounts of ink, paper, and the electricity it takes to power printers and copiers. Despite the increase of digital reading, over the last 20 years, the usage of paper products in the U.S. has increased by 126% to 208 million tons annually. Although this obviously includes all paper products, decreasing the amount of books and textbooks that are printed would surely make a dent in that number. An article from Iron Mountain also cites productivity as a reason to go paperless. Important documents are much more easily accessed by a larger amount of people rather than digging through a sea of papers to search for one document. Shockingly, employees in paper-intensive careers spend 40% of their time searching for documents. It is also easier to give and protect access to important documents to employees and non-employees alike. Digital documents can be encrypted or not have copying, printing, or sharing allowances.

Although I will always enjoy cracking open a new book, the feel of pages beneath my fingers, and that old book smell, I fully support digital reading because of its sustainability, the ways it challenges us, and its flexibility. I believe that there is a bit of a comprehension curve when it comes to reading on screens, but I also believe in the plasticity of our brains -- and our own self-determination -- to rise to the challenge. Gaining more insight into this topic is especially relevant to me because I am planning on going into the publishing field. The print versus digital reading debate, and the trends and opinions that go along with it, will surely play a prominent part in my future career.
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