Will Paper Books Be Replaced by E-books Soon? This Will Surprise You

From LifeHack:

E-books were supposed to be preferred over textbooks by now. For a variety of reasons; however, printed versions of books still prevail. For decades, researchers have been focusing their studies on how people utilize, comprehend, and process digital and paper reading material.

In recent years, researchers continued their investigation of the effectiveness and efficiency of paper text compared to digital text (such as e-books, tablets, personal computers, and laptops).  Some of their conclusions are surprising.

From Hieroglyphics to E-Books

Our brains were not designed for reading. Human beings don’t have pre-programmed genes for reading, like there are for vision and language.

Thanks to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper, and the Gutenberg press we’ve adapted and created new circuits in our brains in order to understand texts and letters.

Prior to the emergence of the Internet, our brains read predominately in linear ways, reading one page at a time before moving on to the next page. Distractions were minimal.

When we read text using e-book devices, tablets, laptops or desktop computers we must juggle multiple distractions (hypertext, e-mails, videos, and pop-up advertisements). In addition, a simple movement like swiping a finger on the screen or readjusting the mouse leads to moving our attention away from what’s being read. These interruptions may seem minor, but they nonetheless adversely affect our comprehension, reading speed, and accuracy.

Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading, had the following comment to say to the WASHINGTON POST:

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling, and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you. We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

Some of the consequences consist of how e-books, computers, and tablets reduce our reading speed and comprehension. Researchers found people comprehend the material they read on paper better than they do on e-books.

The need to comprehend is very important; especially, regarding work and school. Even though today’s children and college students are computer savvy, the majority of them prefer printed versions of text over e-books.

Moreover, Cornell University researchers found that both users and non-users of e-books generally preferred using printed versions of textbooks, since they plan to use them continuously.

Variations in How We Read

There are several different variations to reading. For instance, there are no measurable differences between e-books and paper text when it comes to reading short passages. However, studies show students remember more when reading from paper rather than a screen.

Anne Mangen, literacy professor at Norway’s University of Stavenger, explained more about reading to WIRED:

“Reading is human-technology interaction. Perhaps the tactility and physical permanence of paper yields a different cognitive and emotional experience; reading that can’t be done in snippets, scanning here and there, but requires sustained attention.”

For example, it seems that feeling pages and smelling the book awakens something in the human subconscious. Marilyn Jager-Adams, literacy expert and cognitive psychologist at Brown University, offers this explanation:

“All those cues like what the page looks like, what the book felt like, all those little pieces help you put together the whole thing. And they are just impoverished on a Kindle or tablet.”

E-books do not allow the readers a variety of annotations (like scribbling in the margins, dog-earing, and underlining), which for many people is essential to deep reading. There’s nothing tangible to engage our other senses.

Link to the rest at LifeHack

As PG mentioned before, he has gone almost entirely ebook in his personal reading, definitely for fiction and almost always for non-fiction.

One thing he’ll note is that PG always does his long-form ebook reading on a Kindle Paperwhite. He started that seven or eight years ago because he didn’t want the interruptions that come with a standard tablet. Nothing ever pops up on his Kindle other than the next page when he taps the screen with his thumb.

One part of the OP that was relevant to PG was the comment that for books PG expects to fill with sticky notes or underlines, he does tend to purchase pbooks. However, when someone does a decent job of integrating a rich slate of annotation tools for ebooks, he’ll move away from those types of physical books as well.

9 thoughts on “Will Paper Books Be Replaced by E-books Soon? This Will Surprise You”

  1. One of the things I’ve learned that enhances reading is that I can skim through vast quantities of material looking for only what I actually want to read.

    Even in a printed book this can be hard.

    And there shouldn’t be vast quantities of garbage in my digital reading. But there is.

    I hate the video format – even with detailed marks you can never find anything, you can never see it at your own speed, repeating as necessary – and my brain can’t process video or audio (yeah, it’s a damaged brain, but there is an awful lot of garbage).

    But give me a screen, tell me what I need is probably there, somewhere, and I’ll find it and absorb it by reading, very fast.

  2. PG, I use a tablet (Fire 10) – but it doesn’t interrupt my reading. Except when necessary – such as the timer I currently have set to check the meatballs that I have in the oven.

    My “smart” phone is usually on do-not-disturb, unless I am expecting a message, or will be out of the house for a while.

    Everything on my desktop is in “quiet mode” – no annoying popups about updating the operating system, the antivirus, or the office applications.

    I think that, actually, I have less in the way of technological interruptions than when I was a child in my parent’s house fifty some odd years ago. Dad was a veterinarian, and there would be middle of the night emergency calls to be answered by whoever woke up to the ringing of the hard-wired Ma Bell phone.

  3. I have read zillions of pages on both a Fire tablet and a Kindle. I have never been interrupted by an ad, text, or pop-up. I turn the page by tapping my thumb on the screen. I wonder what devices the researchers use in their studies?

      • I once received a book-club edition that was so badly bound, I had to read it with a letter opener in hand to separate the pages.

        That doesn’t happen with ebooks. However, a sufficiently determined publisher can make an ebook almost as annoying. For instance, I recently slogged through a book from which all the opening quotation marks had been mysteriously deleted. Every time I saw a closing quotation mark, I had to stop and figure out exactly where the quote began.

        Of course, this was from a trad publisher that issued the ebook edition as a very late afterthought.

  4. For pleasure reading nothing beats my e-reader because frankly I don’t have the floorspace for all the books I’ve read and want to read. I once had a library of over 1,000 paper books which were destroyed when my roof caved in during a storm – my Kindle library will never be wiped out by that sort of climatic disaster. I can also take my entire library on vacation. Try that with paperbacks.
    I do prefer paper for my hobby related skills like carving and print making. I can scribble in the margins, lay the book beside me as I work and not worry it will go to sleep, etc.
    For technical books about coding, CSS, etc., I still prefer electronic because of the search feature if for no other reason. Trying to find just the right syntax for a command line in a paper book is a pain.
    I think there will always be a place for multiple formats. The information is what matters more than the presentation.
    As to smelling the pages?!? Do we pine for the smell of papyrus or clay or stone tablets that are no longer used? I think that’s more likely from someone with a paper fetish than a reading fetish.

  5. Researchers found people comprehend the material they read on paper better than they do on e-books.

    This “research” gets echoed around. I would like it brought to light and evaluated.

    • This “research” gets echoed around. I would like it brought to light and evaluated.

      Me, too.

      One thing I do notice—and this is purely anecdotal and goes back to my college days—is that when I physically manipulate textual information, e.g., highlighting, underlining, scribbling in margins, even re-writing bits and pieces, I tend to retain it more. At least, I think I do/did.

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