A Washington Post article “Screen Reading Can Wear on Your Attention” (January 2020) reinforces a commonly expressed idea that reading on printed paper improves reading comprehension when compared to reading on a screen. Especially during COVID, the push to the work online has intensified the time spent staring at glowing screens for prolonged periods of reading.
The Post article brings up additional problems with the push to digital:
•Unlike a printed book or article, digital content is often viewed as interchangeable and short-lived. There is less importance placed on treasuring a digital file (and valuing it as an important part of a published collection that is to be kept for many years). Instead, we’ll move on to the next webpage, digital download, or temporarily borrowed digital file. The digital content appears out of magic and equally easily disappears when a loan expires or the file is lost on a device in the midst of other files that don’t stick out. Having a pile of curated books, articles to read, or, gasp, magazine, that physically demand attention and aren’t invisibly tucked away in the innards of a computer may motivate the reader to attack the pile and not idly watch TV.
•Committing to read a digital book or webpage may not entail the same commitment as a physical product. The book or webpage is likely being viewed on a device that is connected to the internet, with a capable web browser, or app, that is an open invitation to distracted reading. Your facebook feed is only a click away, a sports highlight is also at the fingertips, as well as every movie ever made. Do you really want to read that Biology textbook on evolution and fossils when you can watch the new release on Netflix by tapping the screen three times?
It may also be nearly irresistible to avoid that targeted ads that follow you when you are attempting to read a relevant webpage related to your studies. Wow, Amazon reminded me that I didn’t buy that pair of shoes.
University research by European and Middle-Eastern scholars show that dense information (typically found in science texts) is more difficult to read on a screen than breezy narratives (the backbone of English lit or history classes). So perhaps reading that science textbook or printing out PDFs will improve comprehension and retention of material?
Worth considering how you read, as much as what you read!