March 10, 2015 by libroshombre
Dozens of studies agree: people prefer reading print books over electronic devices. In the 1990’s some folks insisted, rather stridently, that computing and communications technology leave books outmoded, redundant, and doomed. Even in 2010 an MIT Technology Review writer named Christopher Mims was predicting that print publications would become irrelevant “in five or ten years.” He wrote, “How long will it be before it becomes unprofitable to continue to operate huge printing plants when a majority of your customers get your product through the Internet, and for whom your distribution costs are essentially zero? We’re about to find out.”
Some experts disagreed. Walt Crawford, a respected information technology commentator, said in the early 1990s that digitalization, which involves storage and delivery systems and software that’s constantly changing and upgrading, can’t economically replace print, where acid-free paper can store information for 500 years with little fuss. PBS.org writer Michael Joseowicz, a self-professed “print evangelist,” noted in 2009 that the “print is dead” concept was inherently flawed. “Common sense tells us that print is not going away,” Joseowicz wrote. “If print is no longer an important part of your life, that is undeniable. But to extrapolate from personal experience to a statement about what is going to happen in the world doesn’t work. But that’s exactly what many of the people foretelling the death of print are doing.”
Libraries still buy books because people want to read them. Moreover, a recent PEW study found that “the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers.” The point’s driven home by a Washington Post article from last month titled “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right.” Author Michael Rosenwald described how “Textbook makers, bookstore owners, and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises even experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally.”
Rosenwald cites a new book by American University linguist Naomi Baron, “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in the Digital World.” Baron’s extensive surveys revealed reasons young people reared in the Digital Age prefer print, such as “I read more carefully,” and “it’s easier to follow stories.” Another student described the importance of “building a physical map in my mind of where things are.” Why? In “Readers Absorb Less on Kindles Than on Paper, Studies Find,” TheGuardian.com describes research at universities acrossEurope into the physiological differences between digital and print reading. One finding was “that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy, and transportation, and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers …. The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure.”
That is, deep reading allows readers to feel transported to and fully immersed in the author’s written world. Not so with the rapid scanning and mental dashing hither-and-yon that’s inherent with online activities. It’s proven that reading on screens is slower and provides less comprehension than reading the same information in paper.
Our brains weren’t wired to read from birth but develop the capacity through practice. We’re good at it, and it’s good for us. Mic.com reporter Rachel Grate wrote last September about how “Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%” and “elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers.” And then she warns, “But not all forms of reading are created equal.”
Promoting print reading just makes sense. Reading screens take longer and result in less comprehension. Recreational readers perform better at school and work than non-readers, because they seek out books that are fun and practice close reading. For many students school provides their only exposure to reading fun books, so the proposed move away from print in schools, and increased reliance on iPads, is frightening. Our school libraries are more important and desired by students than ever before, and now they’re in danger of being squeezed out of the school budgets. As Mark Twain pointed out, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who can’t read.”