Digital Reading Impediments?

I’m a strong proponent of digital reading. I also believe that when folks talk about healing our economy, the key is for consumers to step up and consume. There is no question in my mind that part of the gentle plus side of the growing economy of 2012 is the development of the digital reading/electronic tablet/iPad markets. It is likely that you saw Apple’s phenomenal sales figure of 3 million new iPads sold in the past week. Do you know as well that studies are now indicating that roughly one-third of American households now has at least on electronic reader/tablet?

Digital reading is more than just here. It is a dominant new experience for all of us. The arguments against e-reading or the notion that this is just a bubble (ie, those of us reading nuts are on spending sprees but will be satiated soon) are specious. In five years most college students will be doing all of their reading with iPads. In ten years all students from age 5 – 85 will do 95% of their work on iPads (or whatever new invention is on the make in 2022).

But an online Time article from their Healthland series should give us all pause for thought. I’ve referenced it at the end of this article. If you pay attention to your digital reading experience and compare it to reading paper, there is no question that the geography of a digital screen is somewhat disorienting compared to paper. In fact, it seems to me we need to make a distinction between what you might call screen reading and page reading. Screen reading is literally virtual, especially on small screens like Kindles, iPods, and iPhones. It is a somewhat confined reading experience. Even with a larger iPad screen words, ideas, paragraphs, whatever are more or less floating in that little electro-liquid enclosure, kind of like a bathtub stuffed full of floating toys.

Page reading is different. When you look at a page of paper filled with text it is fully with you in space and connected to the light, sounds, smells, and furniture of the room around you — even the music you may be listening to. Pages have full context in the world. How you relate to them, if you think about it, is almost a second-nature, instinctive process of cognition. You look at a page and even though you’re reading words line by line, just like you do on a screen, your peripheral vision is aware of the entire paragraph and all the other paragraphs on the page. You know where the chunk of text you are attacking with reading cognition is. The whole page is a map of text in your hand.

Screen reading is not the same. There is at once a tight limitation to what you can view and a sense that the limitation can expand or contract with the click of a button. It’s fully open ended, but constricted at the same time. I think we’re still learning how to read screens. The Internet has taught us to more absorb or skim meaning out of light than it has rewarded us for focused reading cognition.

The article in question below, which you need to read in a sec, talks a lot about memory loss from e-reading and is sort of vague about “research” going on out there. I just finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s 576-page novel Freedom alternating between my iPad and my new Kindle Touch. I enjoyed the experience and remember the characters’ names and have had several lovely conversations with my wife about the story and what happens with Patty, Walter, Joey, Jessica, Richard, Connie, etc. I don’t know what the difference is between long-term and not so long-term memory, but I think it was a good, meaningful, memorable experience.

My take for now on the digital reading experience is that we are still learning how to do this new thing. Research is not going to reveal much other than the experience is kind of weird. It’s easy to scan a small screen and grok two or three sentence fragments without actually “reading.” But it’s also quite fun to lie in bed with all the lights out and your iPad in “night” mode with nothing but sepia letters floating on top of a blackened screen to look at as the hours fly by and Walter and Patty struggle to grow beyond the malaise of middle age.

Do they get back together? Should they get back together…read the book and find out…I think it’s the same digitally as it is on the page, but I’m not completely sure.

See here for the Time article in question.

Happy reading!

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