Screen Reading

With all of the recent hype around studies that purport to suggest that reading on a screen (iPad, Kindle, etc.) is somehow inferior to reading a physical book, I feel it important to link to a couple of counter arguments.

First, in Reading in a Whole New Way, Kevin Kelly makes some compelling statements on the way that the “people of the screen” not only read more but write more as well:

The amount of time people spend reading has almost tripled since 1980. By 2008 more than a trillion pages were added to the World Wide Web, and that total grows by several billion a day. Each of these pages was written by somebody. Right now ordinary citizens compose 1.5 million blog posts per day. Using their thumbs instead of pens, young people in college or at work around the world collectively write 12 billion quips per day from their phones. More screens continue to swell the volume of reading and writing.

Then, in Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social by Steven Johnson writing for the New York Times, takes up issue with the assertion made by Nicolas Carr in The Shallows that the new hyperconnectedness is somehow making us more shallow. less contemplative, and, spare for better words “stupid”:

Mr. Carr spends a great deal of his book’s opening section convincing us that new forms of media alter the way the brain works, which I suspect most of his readers have long ago accepted as an obvious truth. The question is not whether our brains are being changed. (Of course new experiences change your brain — that’s what experience is, on some basic level.) The question is whether the rewards of the change are worth the liabilities.

As for me, I’m still on the fence about how I feel. Ultimately, I think that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. In fact, it must, as we are all far enough down the path of an age where the larger portion of the reading we will do is short form and on a screen as opposed to a book. That said, I likely read more now than I did before this time. The iPad, due to it’s larger display, has actually increased that. Not only this but a book, due to my need to have uninterrupted focus for prolonged periods of time, has a much higher barrier to entry for me. Therefore, I am far more picky and my expectations for reward through gratification are equally as high.

That said, is my ability to focus, and the time it takes me, getting only worsened by the fact I do it less? Also the fact that I read short form writing far more? These are important questions to which I do not have the answer. That said, it is something I will now be much more mindful of as I engage the two options.