My 18-year-old son, Michael, recently told me that he does almost all of his reading on electronic devices. As his dinosaur-era father, I read almost exclusively from physical books.
All three of my adult children have grown up in the amazing time of the Internet. Certainly there are benefits—such as convenience—to reading books and articles in electronic formats (my church class even graciously presented me with a Kindle as a gift)—yet I have not been able to transition to it. Thus, I carry more luggage on my flights than my technologically-adapted friends. I guess I’m just an old-fashioned, bookish guy.
I love not just reading and learning but especially reading while holding a book in my hands. I’m convinced that at least in part my strong ability to remember, reflect upon, and utilize what I’ve read is actually tied to reading a physical book. Marking, outlining, summarizing, dog-earing a beloved volume—making the book my own—is critical to gleaning knowledge and wisdom. Plus, I just like the way physical books feel and smell.
Reading and Mental Maps
Lumosity, the organization that offers brain training through online games designed by neuroscientists, released a Google Plus post on February 24 that reports that reading physical books (or from paper) has advantages over reading on an electronic device.
Reading relies on areas of the brain dedicated to object recognition, meaning your brain creates a mental map of the entire text and uses physical placement to remember content (for example: bottom corner of the left page). Most digital devices interfere with this ability to map text, which can inhibit reading comprehension. In addition, scrolling can use up cognitive resources by forcing you to concentrate on the text’s movement—and the more attention you divert to motion, the less you have to spare for comprehension.
The Lumosity post sites a Scientific American article entitled “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: Why Paper Still Beats Screens.” (And, yes, I recognize the seeming hypocrisy of appealing to an online article to support the idea that there are benefits to not reading online and then writing about it on my blog.)
A Reading Evangelist
As an educator and philosopher I am an evangelist for reading generally, but especially for reading great books. And while I prefer physical books to e-readers—and can now support my preference with a scientific study—I think that if a person reads, whether they read from paper or screen is unimportant. But it does make me again appreciate that, as a historic Christian, I am part of that community known as the “people of the Book.”