Note: PG mentioned this article when it first appeared in 2013, but thought it worthy for a revisit.
From Scientific American:
In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.
The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation—a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment—that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives”—that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.
. . . .
How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?
. . . .
Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.
Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.
“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”
Link to the rest at Scientific American
Speaking of lurching into digital reading and preserving the “absolute best of older forms,” if you were to enter TPV Central, you would see a great deal of paper (assuming Mrs. PG didn’t demand a preparatory cleanup).
Despite Mrs. PG’s contentions, PG has a mental map of the various stacks and bits of paper, USB cords, dead mice (of the computer variety), backup hard drives, rechargeable batteries, etc., that cover his rather large corner desk. While PG admits to certain areas of terra incognita, generally speaking, he can lay a hand on what he is seeking with a surprising degree of accuracy.
That said, he conducts the vast majority of his reading via computer screens (three on his desk plus tablets, Kindles, iPhones, etc.). If PG read the equivalent amount of material on paper, his lair would be filled with file cabinets (if Mrs. PG had her way), Casa PG would require multiple weekly visits from one or more garbage trucks and Washington/Oregon would be devoid of forests.
While PG doesn’t have a mental map of his digital reading, he does have a search function on each of his devices. While mental maps of long-form paper publications can be useful, how many of such maps can a person retain in their memories for any length of time?
Casa PG still contains quite a number of bookshelves filled with paper books. While PG (mostly) recognizes titles he has read, his mental maps of the contents of those titles have disappeared into the mists of time.
PG is reminded of an old lawyer from a long time ago. (He was a real lawyer, not a player in a parable.) This lawyer was well-known for the huge piles of paper on his desk, on the floor of his office, etc., and also for his astounding ability to reach into the correct pile and the correct location in each pile to retrieve a needed document. While PG never witnessed the lawyer performing this feat, those who had pronounced themselves highly impressed by the lawyer’s organizational abilities.
A few years after this old lawyer met his reward, PG was talking with one of the lawyer’s partners. For some reason, the conversation turned to the old lawyer’s desk and his supernatural ability to remember where everything was.
The lawyer’s partner spoke of the arduous job of clearing the old lawyer’s desk. In the process, the partners discovered many thousands of dollars in uncashed client checks, some years old, that the lawyer had placed into his desktop filing system and forgotten about. If properly deposited, those checks would have substantially increased the firm’s income.
PG suggests that, like many other things residing in the human mind, mental maps have their drawbacks as information retrieval systems.