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October 21, 2009, 10:00 AM ET

Screen Reading and Print Reading

With students doing so much of their reading assignments through the screen instead of on book or paper formats, it's important for educators to determine how the shift is altering their habits and learning. The research is just beginning, but it's getting deeper, and one recent article worthy of note appears in the Journal of Research in Reading (2008, pp. 404-419). It's by Anne Mangen, and it has the title "Hypertext fiction reading: haptics and immersion."

Mangen notes the growing sub-field of screen reading studies, but finds that the "intangibility and volatility of the digital text" remain under-examined.  She focuses first, then, on the material nature of digital and non-digital reading experiences. "Unlike print texts," she writes, "digital texts are ontologically intangible and detached from the physical and mechanical dimension of their material support, namely, their computer or e-book (or other devices, such as the PDA, the iPod or the mobile phone" (405).

This is important, she argues, because "materiality matters." The reading experience includes manual activities and haptic perceptions (what the skin and muscles and joints register), and so as activities and perceptions of that kind are changed from one kind of reading experience to another because of the object, the reading experience, too, will change.

The differences between screen and paper go deeper than the physics of each.  They also involve the relationship the reader has to them. For Mangen, a crucial difference lies in the nature of the immersion in screen "worlds" as being distinct from the technology that facilitates it. In other words, the mouse, head set, and so on provide the entry into the visual world, but are not constitutive parts of it. "In contrast," she explains, "consider the sense of being immersed in a fictional world which is largely the product of our own mental, cognitive abilities to create that fictive, virtual (in the figurative sense of the word) world from the symbolic representations -- the text, whether purely linguistic or multi-modal, digital or print -- displayed by means of any technological platform." Books don't have tools to help readers make up that fictive world, and so they do it more with their own minds.

That's a dense formulation, but it comes down to physical and technical features that do or do not "disturb" the immersion typical of reading a novel (as opposed to the immersion typical of  playing a video game). Compare clicking on the mouse to turning the page. Turning the page is a literal touch of the thing you read. Clicking the mouse is an instrumental touch of the device that purveys an intangible thing through it. You read a book, but you don't read a computer screen. You read a text through the screen. You turn a page, which is part of the book, but you click a mouse or touch a screen icon which is not part of the "book" you're reading. "The digital text has no material substance," no tactile existence, and so it has no haptically-perceived relation to the screen. 

One effect, Mangen maintains, is that the digital text makes us read "in a shallower, less focused way."

There are other effects as well, but this one is far-reaching. While "shallower" reading through or on the screen serves certain purposes quite well, when it comes to reading complex texts and interpreting, analyzing, or even summarizing them, a slower and deeper habit is needed.

For more, see Mangen's interview with Dan Bloom here.

 

Comments

1. luther_blissett - October 21, 2009 at 01:15 pm

Wow, how many decades of "history of the book" research are ignored here!

First off, a book is as much a machine as a screen. One doesn't "read" a book. One reads words printed on a piece of paper. This is no less true about books than about screens. If you want a sense of "machine failure" in books, take a look at any Norton Anthology. The medium -- the typeface, the font, the margins, the paper, the size and weight of the volume -- gets in the way of the message, makes reading physically uncomfortable.

So sure, turning a page and clicking a mouse are different physical activities, but the latter is no more naturally or organically connected to the text itself than the former. Walter Ong has published countless examples of early readers of print making the same complaints about the lack of organicity in the transition from orality to writing or print. We lose the delicate modulations of the throat, the delicious roundness of the acoustic situation, the sensual vibrations in the ear, all through the horrible, artificial nastiness of the book.

The page is not "a part" of the book, unless by "book" you mean the machine that delivers the text to the audience. A page is an interface, just as a mouse is. We can, in theory, separate "the text" from "the book." The page is an artificial addition to the text. It arbitrarily cuts up the text; once upon a time, it involved the actual cutting of pages by the reader to read onward. (One could also look at websites like The British Library's Turning the Page, in which users actually turn the page on the screen in the same physical gesture as turning a book page. It doesn't make a huge difference in the reading experience, but it feels great to pretend to turn the giant pages of a medieval Bible.)

Finally, books have all sorts of ways to do the imaginative work of the reader. Books have pictures, pie charts, text boxes, illuminations, diagrams, typefaces, and all sorts of other apparatuses that complicate any simple equation of "book" with "immersion in a reader's mental representation of what's going on the book." An e-book can be more devoid of multiple media than a real book. Compare the on-line editions of *The Canterbury Tales* with the illuminated manuscripts of it. or The Norton Critical edition. The former are often strictly text, without even footnotes or editorial insertiions. The latter involve images or footnotes or intros and essays and historical context and all sorts of stuff that does the reader's work for him.

In any case, this argument sounds simplistic and willfully ignorant of decades of research on the shift from orality to literacy, from manuscript to print cultures, etc. A book is a machine, a technology, and it's only the way we've naturalized it that makes us think the computer screen is somehow more artificial.



2. danbloom - October 21, 2009 at 11:41 pm

I feel re all this that in a way we are doomed, doomed....because even IF future
brain studies with MRI scans by PHDs and neuroscientists SHOW that
reading on screens is inferior to paper reading, in terms on
processing and retention and analysis and criticial thinking
skills.....even still, the gadget makers will continue to come out
with more and more NOOKs and VOOKS and KROOKS and KINDLES in order to make money and
market their wares and make profits for shareholders and there's no
stopping the technological reading gadget tsunami which is engulfing us, sometimes for the
better, yes, I admit, I like email and blogging and even Facebook, sometimes for the worse, (don't ask!) .....and me, i will stick with paper, Mr Paper, thank
you, but Mrs Screen is coming on strong, we're done for, and we're doomed doomed, the techies will WIN, the gadgetheads
run the world now....SIGH

3. danbloom - October 21, 2009 at 11:50 pm

An English professor from USA working in Italy read this and sent me this email note for posting here: "Yet another sublime piece to 'scread', .... Dr Bauerlein wrote a great post! I hope he keeps writing more about this, I know his work from his book about the new generation of kids ......and I'll keep zipping through them...haptically or otherwise.

Ciao for now,

Kelly A. in Italy

4. danbloom - October 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm

And Richard Watson, an insightful futurist in the UK who has written some books about this and more, told me also in email this morning:

"Bauerlein's post here is very much the old deep and slow versus the new fast and thin reading
that I reference in my new book! I think something is building....."

Watson wrote "Future files: 5 trends that will shape the next 50 years"

5. danbloom - October 21, 2009 at 11:59 pm

When I asked a top journalist and media critic about the use of brain scans with MRI studies to try to find out if paper reading is any different from screen reading, an idea I lay out in my "Hogwash Statement" (Google under blogs), he told me, after reading Dr Bauerlein's piece here above: "Personally, I don't think we're going to learn what we need to know from brain scans. Neuroscience is at a very primitive stage."

6. mchui - October 22, 2009 at 12:23 am

The blog post states, "The research is just beginning..." into reading on screen vs. reading on paper. There is actually a fairly extensive history of research into this topic. For a synthesis of this research, see:

Dillon, A. (2004) Designing Usable Electronic Text. 2nd Edition, London: CRC Press (1st edition, 1994)

7. danbloom - October 22, 2009 at 12:49 am

The Hogwash Statement, as "reported" on tne New York Times "Room for Debate" blog on "Does the Brain Like E-books" (which Dan Bloom suggested as a topic to the editors there and they took him up on it, with 5 experts chiming in with commentaries and over 350 comments in the comment threads...)


The point of all this is not so much to coin a new word -- God knows
there are enough neologisms already, the reading field surely doesn't
need a new word for "reading" if "reading" is fine for "reading on a
computer screen" -- and for all that I care, the new word could be
"hogwash", as in "I'm hogwashing 'Moby Dick' on my Kindle tonight" --
so the real point of my public crusade/campaign to search for a new
word (if needed, and if useful!) is to point out the need for scholars
and scientists to study the very real differences between reading on
paper and reading on screens, and not just with learned opinions and
surveys, but with hard science -- that is to
say, MRI brain scan studies in laboratory settings and hospital rooms
to study -- firsthand! up close and personal! -- white matter and grey
matter neural pathways and try to ascertain if reading on paper
surfaces lights up different parts of the brain compared to reading on
a screen.

That is all this campaign is about. I don't care to coin a
new name for reading on screens. I am not a name coiner. I have no
interest in coining a new word for screen-reading. If a new word or term
does come to us, great. If not, that's okay, too. All I want to do
is to egg scientists and
neuro-scientists on to study these issues with MRI scan tissues. Then we will
really know what the differences between paper reading and screen
reading really mean.

Question: Why am I so concerned and seemingly obsessed about this? I
worry about the future of human civilization! If screen-reading turns
out to be a bit inferior to paper reading -- in terms of which parts
of the brain light up for things like processing info, retention,
analysis, critical thinking, empathy, digesting, internalizing,
understanding, etc -- then we need to know this.

That's my hunch. That's all I want to know. Let the brain scans begin!

http://zippy1300.blogspot.com/2009/10/hogwash-statement-by-danny-bloom.html

8. danbloom - October 22, 2009 at 02:32 am

A top reading expert in Canada tells me offline re this blog by Dr Bauerlein:

"Thank you for this interesting article by Dr Bauerlein.

But, in my opinion, the problem with his blog article is that it equates all reading material with fiction as if reading fiction were the epitome of the reading experience. In that sense, I agree that the computer screen is not the best support for "immersing" oneself in a novel. But what about scholarly articles ? There are some 25,000 scholar journals available through the Internet, with some two million articles published per year. Does Dr Anne Mangen really think that all those articles are necessarily read in a shallow manner unless they are printed on paper?"

9. danbloom - October 22, 2009 at 03:42 am

Mark, the media seems much more interested now in acting as shills for the marketing departments of companies that want to hawk e-gadgets to millions of people,, and that's cool, I love gadgets too, but we also need to find out if reading on paper surfaces is much different from reading on screens, no matter how paper-like they claim to be. My hunch is that screen reading -- what i now call "screening" and others refer to as "screading" -- is vastly inferior to paper reading in terms of processing, retention, analysis and critical thinking. We need to find out what is going on in our brains with MRI scan research tests about all this, and listen to experts like Anne Mangen, [YOU] Mark Bauerlein, Maryanne Wolf, Edward Tenner, Kevin Kelly, Paul Saffo, Charles Bigelow, and Gary Small, among others. There is too much reporting about the gadgets themslves, as if they were the new gods of the our universe -- and yes they are cool and sleek and wonderful -- but where is the reporting that looks into whether these e-reading gadgets are good for us, in terms of how we process what we read. Reading email and comments and blogs on a screen is one thing, but reading novels and poetry and newspaper opeds is completely different. We need to report this, study this, no? I have not seen anything yet like this happening in the MSM yet. Why?

10. danbloom - October 22, 2009 at 03:52 am

NEWSWEEK's Weston Kosova on all this and more:


On Monday I wrote about the new Barnes & Noble e-book reader, called the Nook, and how it is part of a larger strategy by the bookseller to topple Amazon. Now the Nook is official, and hardwarewise, it certainly makes the Kindle seem even dowdier and less exciting than it already did, if that's even possible.

No doubt Amazon will hit back with an even better Kindle next time around, and then Apple will weigh in with its rumored Nook'nKindle killer tablet in a few months─and so it goes. The good news is, all this competition will mean better (and cheaper) devices and e-books for all of us. If there was ever a doubt that e-books would eventually go mainstream, that's now been settled.

Yet there are those who still have doubts about leaving paper behind. Some of the misgivings about e-books are easy to understand. The e-readers and a lot of the books themselves still cost too much; and most commercial e-books are shackled with stupid DRM restrictions that severely limit the way customers can use them, much the way MP3s were once locked up before record labels finally realized they were fighting a losing battle.


Advertisement
But now comes a new complaint about e-books that, I must admit, had never occurred to me before: They are the equivalent of Nazis. In the October issue of the Evergreen Review, novelist and poet Alan Kaufman writes that the promoters of e-books are plotting to kill paper books the way Hitler plotted to kill Jews. He goes on to say that─wait, you know what? I can't do justice to the sublime lunacy of this piece by paraphrasing. Excerpts:

The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now Der Book. Hi-tech propogandists [sic] tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better-off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets, downloaded on the Uber-Kindle.

... As to the bookstore, it is like the synagogue under Hitler: the house of a doomed religion. And the paper book is its Torah and gravestone: a thing to burn, or use to pave the road to internet heaven.

At this point one might point out that no one is arguing that paper books should be abolished. One might also note the irony of Kaufman's choice of forum, using a magazine Web site to rave against the evils of reading on a screen. But one senses Kaufman does not have much of an ear for irony.

Instead, let us return to the text for his rousing conclusion. The spread of e-books is, he writes, "... a catastrophe of holocaustal proportions. And its endgame is the disappearance of not just books but of all things human."

Well, OK. But the Nook has a color touchscreen, which you have to admit is pretty slick.

11. markbauerlein - October 22, 2009 at 07:52 am

Did you read the research article, Luther? What do you think of Mangen's arguments, particularly the haptic dimension?

12. blendedlibrarian - October 22, 2009 at 08:28 am

RE: Mark's response to Luther. Thanks Mark for sharing an excellent technique for responding to commenters who (a)either read your post and comment without understanding the context of your thoughts because they don't bother to read what you are referencing or even worse (b) have read a snippet of your original post somewhere else and don't bother to read your post or what you were referencing before making a comment.

13. goxewu - October 22, 2009 at 08:41 am

Says it all:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pyjRj3UMRM

14. goxewu - October 22, 2009 at 08:45 am

And...you gotta love the fail-safe: People who disagree with Prof. Bauerlein's thesis are obviously reading superficially because they're reading Prof. Bauerlein's thesis...on a screen!

15. 11147726 - October 22, 2009 at 09:02 am

Yeah. That's right. That's why I'm not reading the stuff on this screen.

Oops. No wait. Something about cognitive...? Oh! Never mind.

16. luther_blissett - October 22, 2009 at 09:13 am

Mark, I could not read the article because, as a non-academic, I don't have access to academic journals. But I read the interview and I read your blog post. Insofar as you present her argument and findings, I'm not convinced. I don't know what sort of controls the researchers used, but I'd imagine there's already a cultural force at work here. Most readers have been trained to view print as important and screens as entertainment. Materials that come in paper form, since the time readers are little, are materials they need to read closely and sign and memorize, etc. Screen materials are those meant for entertainment purposes, to be skimmed, etc.

FInally, I always love the "have you read the original" reply -- which is only ever directed at negative responses. Why didn't Mark ask his supporters if *they* had read the research report before agreeing with him? It's the blogger's responsibility to accurately summarize what cannot be linked.

17. educationfrontlines - October 22, 2009 at 09:29 am

It does not take brain scans to detect the superficial grasp many students are getting from reading eTexts, etc. Most of us, aside from looking up "directory" items, hit the "print" key when we need to read long excerpts and we do it for comprehension and speed, not the feel of paper.

Very solid research exists by Charles Bigelow (type fonts) and Gordon Legge ("Psychophysics of Reading in Normal and Low Vision").

To the children born in the future, we may ask them if they want a 100% read-on-paper life or a 70% read-on-screen life.



18. akeller - October 22, 2009 at 10:38 am

My first comment has to do with the original article. Has any research been done on the actual difference in the way the eye responds to the actual physics of reading from a book vs. reading from a screen. The eye sees reflected light when reading a book, but sees projected light when reading a screen (personally I feel drained at the end of a day when reading a screen, but don't feel that way at all after reading a book all day.)

Secondly to those that think reading screens are the wave of the future. The energy used and waste created to make a screen machine far out weigh the energy used and waste created to make a book. Also, once a book is produced the only technology required to use it is the Mark One eyeball.

19. luther_blissett - October 22, 2009 at 10:55 am

akeller, I believe the Kindle uses different technology than a computer screen in terms of projected light and such. Furthermore, eye-strain is not merely a factor of light. Again, plenty of print books are horribly designed and cause eye-strain, especially as publishers cut costs. I'll simply point out again The Norton anthologies, which are terrible in every way for effecting a pleasant, absoptive reading experience.

educationfrontlines: sure, I'm not brain scans can tell us anything more than what parts of the brain "light up" when the brain is performing certain tasks. But students are trained, still, from an early age, to take print sources more seriously than e-sources. However, there's no physical reason I've seen why students cannot be trained to take e-sources seriously. I teach high school, and students use electronic databases for literary research all year for my class. They certainly take the articles in the Scribners and Blooms databases seriously, and I see it in their annotated bibliographes, oral presentations, and final essays. I also use a lot of the on-line supplementary materials offered by Norton (my juniors use the NA of English Lit as a textbook). Recently, my students have read medieval poems, excerpts from medieval philosophy, and medieval religious codes on-line. They've performed as well on the quizzes and essays on that material as on assessments based on the print Norton.

20. madamesmartypants - October 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I liked luther_blissett's comment #1. I had the same reservations regarding the e-book debate--very like what Roman and early Christina scholars used to complain about regarding books, back when books were something new (replacing the spoken word). I think that Mangen's article is plausible in that things that take more effort (in this case, physical) tend to stick with people better, but I wonder if their account studied whether the subjective importance people place on book vs. screen reading impacts our absorption of those texts. In other words, do we have an implicit bias towards paper reading as being more in-depth, significant, etc? To what extent does the current state of the virtual world--no control over what people put up, no fact-checking, no editor in charge of making sure a book is peer-reviewed or even accurate--affect how we think about screen reading in general? And lastly, how does this differ between the generations? I would argue that one of the biggest virtues of screen reading is simply making the texts available; if students won't read the paper form of the book, then it really doesn't matter whether they would absorb the print copy better or not.

21. madamesmartypants - October 22, 2009 at 12:01 pm

oops that was supposed to be Christian

22. goxewu - October 22, 2009 at 01:24 pm

"The energy used and waste created to make a screen machine far out weigh the energy used and waste created to make a book."

Am I missing something in #18? It seems that a "screen machine," e.g. a kindle, or even a laptop, can take the material place of any number of books. So the comparision should be, shouldn't it, of the energy and waste required to produce a kindle or a laptop, to the energy and waste required to produce the entire number of books (and copies of newspapers and magazines) that one would read over the lifetime of the "screen machine."

akeller is apparently doing too much reading on a "screen machine."

23. abbylearn - October 22, 2009 at 03:00 pm

This issue has become more and more interesting as more information has become available to read on a computer screen. As a speed reading expert and author, I feel compelled to chime in here about the reading skills of the general population. Since most people haven't had any reading training since elementary school, I think of readers abilities like a car that has gone too long without an oil change and spark plugs.

The average reader reads at 250 word per minute. Research about reading speeds on-screen show an average reduction of 25%!Learning some simple strategies for making ones reading better and faster helps both on paper AND on-screen.

Pam Mullan, my co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Speed Reading, did her Master's Thesis on Reading On-Screen and included updated information in the book in a chapter on reading on-screen.

With increased competence and confidence in one's reading ability comes the flexibility of being able to read well both on paper and on-screen. I hope this is helpful!

Abby Marks Beale
www.RevItUpReading.com

24. 11159995 - October 22, 2009 at 05:44 pm

Just a few comments from an editor who has spent the last 40+ years reading scholarly work intensively....

1) I read the sports section of the daily newspaper differently from the way I read the op-ed and hard news pages. I read blogs and the "comments" section of Chronicle articles differently from the way I read the main articles. I think these differences are at least as great as any differences between the way I read in print generally vs. the way I read on screen.

2) One great advantage of reading on screen is that one can adjust the type size and font of what one is reading (unless it is a PDF), whereas in print the designer has already made that choice for you. I confess that the current design preference for cramming a lot of words on the page and using very small type for footnotes in scholarly books makes for LESS easy reading than reading on screen where I can control the presentation of what I read.

3) Most publishers that offer books in electronic form also provide a POD option, which means that print will remain a choice for readers for the indefinite future. It makes no sense for publishers NOT to offer this option, as it provides another income stream that, currently, far exceeds the revenue from e-book sales themselves.

4) I recently retired as director of a university press and relocated to another state where I will continue to serve that press as an acquiring editor. One change is that I will do the vast majority of my critical reading of scholarly work on screen instead of on a printed page. I do not anticipate that this change will affect my ability to make discriminating decisions about which books to pursue for publication; i.e., I would be very surprised if my reading somehow turns out to be more "shallow" than when I read manuscripts in print form. I suppose if the reputation of this press declines in future years, then I shall have been proved wrong! We shall see....

Sandy Thatcher, Penn State University Press

25. willynilly - October 22, 2009 at 08:43 pm

Mr.Bauerlein, You screwed up badly on the last article you wrote for THE CHRONICLE; RE: Fox Cable News. As a result, I am sure that there are a considerable number of CHRONICLE on-line subscribers, like me, who now have little to no confidence in your journalistic accuracy. I read several of the posts herein. Low and behold more reader claims of inaccuracy and shoddy reporting, including mis-interpretred conclusions drawn from the instruments you reviewed prior to attempting to write this item. You desperately need to get your act together.

26. markbauerlein - October 22, 2009 at 10:08 pm

If you can show an inaccuracy or a misrepresentation in this post, willynilly, please do so. And I don´t say that as a challenge. We all make mistakes.

Back to the haptic point, I think it is true that there is a fundamentally different material relationship between the printed page and the text thereon and the mouse and the text on the screen.

27. vfichera - October 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm

It's always fascinating to note how limited are the usual perceptions of the sensory revolution in "reading" that electronic technologies enable.

First of all, imagine that one is a blind reader -- yes, they exist, n'est-ce pas In the world of print-only media, the blind experience print in Braille. The electronic interface, on the other hand, enables text to be speech -- and while it is being argued above that the novel exists in the mind, a play exists in the spoken word first and foremost. Speech recognition and speech playback software expand the realizations of text into auditory as well as visual experiences.

Lastly, I would like to mention the decidedly "humanities" pre-computer focus of the comments. When reading a JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article in its online (non-pdf print-mimic) form, for example, one has the advantage of clicking on graphs, on charts, etc. and placing them in separate screens for enlarging; one can go directly to the articles referenced in the footnotes immediately to verify the accuracy of their use in the text, etc.

The result: one spends far more time reading that article online than one normally would with the journal in one's hands. Such an online reading is a dialogue not only with the article but with its context and its sources.

Of course, online versions of great literary works (e.g., Shakespeare) have been created with the power of multimedia renditions -- click on a word for a definition, click on a paragraph for a commentary, click on an icon for a reading, click on another link for references to the alternate versions, click again and see and hear a recording of the stage/film version of the play.

I have not read Mangen (mea culpa, mea culpa -- tongue in cheek) but my impression of the discussion here is that the challenges to the mind and the senses that the electronic information technologies offer are likely conceived as limiting rather than enabling by those whose own experiences (and skills) with these technologies are limited.

28. danbloom - October 23, 2009 at 01:20 am

These comments offer a fascinating discussion of these issues, both pro and con, and thanks, Dr Bauerlein, for posting this blog here. A correspondet in the Netherlands tells me:

"There is a point to be made about accusing the moguls of the big publishing houses of trying to ram these e-readers down our throats, worldwide.

They DO try to push their gadgets down our throats. And the reason is
simple: money. It is of course a publishers wet dream: no more book-design,
no more printing, no warehouses, no more troubled nights - am I going to
sell all this junk? Just myriads of half-edited digital books that still
cost the Earth without the costs.

So it looks like e-books are going to make it. And if I look at some of the
reactions of librarians, who are willing and able to destroy their holdings,
after digitizing the content in a half-baked way, one certainly starts to
think about some kind of corporate/media conspiracy.

Let me say this: the technology being what it is at the moment, I would not
put my money on the Kindle, the Sony, or the Nook.

I will buy the device that Steve Jobs probably is looking at now: a nice
colour screen with Harry Potter and all the portraits of the wizards waving
at me just like the movie while I read. But no, even Apple will not be able
to create a device that will let me enjoy Marcel Proust.

Bertelsman, Hachette and
the rest of the corporate publishers will certainly try to brainwash us, but they will not
succeed. The reason is simple: the machines they offer are not good enough.

Now you never know what happens in the garage next door where some bright
Lex Luthor is doing his inventions, but e-ink ... no. It does not work and
it will not work, no matter what Barnes and Noble pay their tame journalists
and bloggers to pretend the opposite and create a hype."


29. danbloom - October 23, 2009 at 01:37 am

A friend in the Netherlands tells me re this discussion: "There is a point to be made about how some corporate moguls are trying to push their e-reader gadgets down our throats. And the reason is
simple: money. It is of course a publishers wet dream: no more book-design,
no more printing, no warehouses, no more troubled nights - am I going to
sell all this junk? Just myriads of half-edited digital books that still
cost the earth without the costs.
So it looks like ebooks are going to make it. And if I look at some of the
reactions of librarians, who are willing and able to destroy their holdings,
after digitizing the content in a half-baked way, one certainly starts to
think about some kind of problem.
Let me say this: the technology being what it is at the moment, I would not
put my money on the Kindle, the Sony, the Nook .... I will buy the device that Steve Jobs probably is looking at now: a nice
colour screen with Harry Potter and all the portraits of the wizards waving
at me just like the movie while I read. But no, even Apple will not be able
to create a device that will let me enjoy Proust. Bertelsman, Hachette and
the rest of the bunch will certainly try to brainwash us, but they will not
succeed. The reason is simple: the machines they offer are not good enough.

Now you never know what happens in the garage next door where some bright
Lex Luthor is doing his inventions, but e-ink ... no. It does not work and
it will not work, no matter what Barnes and Noble pay their tame journalists
and bloggers to pretend the opposite and create a hype."

30. willynilly - October 23, 2009 at 09:40 am

Mr. Bauerlein: I will be happy to meet your request. Re-read Post #1. It says it all and sets the tone for all the posts which follow. No.1 begins his/her post with the following: Wow: How many decades of "history of the book" research are ignored ... Now go to the first paragraph of your piece. You state that "the research is just beginning". That inaccuracy is exactly the arguement I have with your Fox Cable News article. There was an abundance of research available about Fox news that presented a picture 180 degrees away from that you choose to present. It seems as if you slap these pieces together using your own vague thoughts of the "state of the art" or you personal biases. In the market in which you are currently working, you cannot present "off the top of your head articles". Your audience is in the know. Begin to take more pride in the thoroughness of your work. If you do so, accuracy will follow.

31. vfichera - October 23, 2009 at 10:26 am

The point about librarians ditching holdings in favor of half-baked digitized scanned versions is well-taken. I believe even the Library of Congress ditched many old newspaper holdings -- scholars are tearing their hair out because the digital versions are problematic in many ways, not the least of which is the alteration of formatting. There is something to be said for understanding the history of not only the book but print itself.

Several things appear to be happening in this thread. First of all, the discussion of digital reading has been reduced by some to digital e-books. Of course, once a reader becomes used to the rich, multi-level interaction of multimedia reading, well, an e-book without the features of a full operating system is just for beach reading. Notice that the net book has evolved to include the business market's most favorite operating system, Windows XP. Now, why is that, exactly? Duh....

As for Proust, well, somehow I imagine that the writer who preferred to write in bed in multiple notebooks that continuously cross-reference themselves (driving scholars of the manuscripts mad for decades), and who "imaged" the world of his childhood unleashed from a madeleine cookie dipped in a cup of tilleul tea like a collapsed paper flower unfolding in water -- clearly that man, his mind, and his imagination would have absolutely loved a notebook computer.

32. luther_blissett - October 23, 2009 at 01:34 pm

vfichera, yes! Librarians need to recognize that every material form of language -- orality, manuscript and print literacy, electronic literacy, etc. -- needs to preserved as accurately as possible. There is a message in the medium, and to lose the medium is often to lose the message. It would be like throwing out the Lindisfarne Gospel because, you know, we have so many other copies of the Bible.

33. markbauerlein - October 23, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Wrong, willynilly. The research is, indeed, just just beginning on screen reading, because so many screen reading activities are so new. To get solid conclusions, you need longitudinal studies of many cohorts (eg. adopters of different ages and experiences) with good samples, and you need to track the impact for several years with the same cohort. But for how long have people been reading books on their cell phones? Luther's comment about me ignoring history of the book is irrelevant.

Also, do you think it's okay to talk about my "personal biases" and "pride" behind the veil of a pseudonym?

34. snysny - October 24, 2009 at 05:35 am

I strongly disagree with Mangen's argument that screen reading results in superficial reading. Many of my students supposedly read from books yet consistently fail to achieve a deep reading! I suppose there are different screen-reading experiences; a pdf file saved on one's computer is not intangible and volatile.

So, it all depends on ones reading habits. When reading, whether on paper or on the screen, I take notes and summarize important points as I go -- my own personal method of deep reading. I prefer to do this on my computer, because notes are easier to file and store than in notebooks. The deepness of the reading experience is the same whether I read from the screen or from the actual physical book or journal.

I prefer articles in pdf format. They are easier to store and archive than paper. I have no more space in my library for photocopied articles. Furthermore, I can do content searches with pdf files. And, probably most important of all, I avoid the wasting of paper when printing out or photocopying articles. Many people of my generation (forty+) resist reading on the screen--this is merely habit. Yet there is an additional advantage to reading in pdf format for aging eyes: you can increase the size of the print on screen and thus not struggle with small print from a journal! (in answer to comment no. 24: you can increase font size with a pdf! I do it all the time)

On the other hand, like many others, I hate e-books, and other such gadgets, finding them clumsy and annoying. It's a matter of design I suppose. Google books format isn't bad, however.

I live overseas in a non-English-speaking country and it is often difficult to get a hold of scholarly books and journals in English. Access to digital copies of books, even partial access through google books, has allowed me to keep abreast of scholarly literature.

I do agree, however, that nothing can replace the pleasure of a book. And for that reason, books will not go away. They will increasingly become luxury items, as they were in the past.

As a medievalist, one of my greatest pleasures (as well as challenges) is reading and studying manuscripts. Working with manuscripts has made me better realize how printed books changed reading habits. And yes, digital reading, will likewise do so. But deep reading is deep reading, whether reading from a manuscript, a book, or on the screen.

35. francishamit - October 26, 2009 at 03:07 pm

As someone who has published e-books since 2004, let me say that this is not yet a mass market. And that e-books require not just as much, but often more time to properly design and render for the consumer. The time-cost of conversion to all of the various formats extant and the correction of "unintended artifacts" is a major barrier yet to be overcome. As a publisher I'm interested in what sells, and what sells is the printed book. My novel "The Shenandoah Spy" over the last 18 months, has sold about 100 times more copies of the print edition as the Amazon Kindel version. We've just cut the price significantly on that last to see if we can get those numbers up, but I am not hopeful. Print books have an inherent advantage that e-readers on online will never overcome. They don't have to be plugged in to be read and can be used anywhere.

36. goxewu - October 28, 2009 at 01:17 pm

Has anybody mentioned the tradeoff in physical convenience? Whatever the disadvantage of screen reading as compared to (paper) page reading, screen reading, especially on a e-book:

* Allows one to take a hundred novels on that vacation to the lake, and not just the paper books that'll fit in the luggage.

* Could save thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars, when, if one has an extensive library, moves.

* Would save lots and lots of schoolchildren from serious back injuries from carrying around 25-30-pound backpacks. (Don't laugh; there was a story in The New York Times a few years ago about just that, especially in middle school, when the necessary textbooks multiply but bodies are still undeveloped.)

* Save hours and hours of time flipping through pages to look up stuff.

* Keeps reading material physical fresh and crisp, and prevents it from getting dog-eared, torn, dirty, vandalized (e.g., pages and illustrations ripped out).

...and a whole bunch of other advantages I can't think of before I have to rush off to class.

(These advantages are not small beans, either. Just think of all the times you've thrown your back out carting around boxes of books, the times you couldn't find a book misfiled on a shelf, the times you couldn't find what you wanted in a book--practically any work of fiction--because it had no index, the times you dropped a load of books from under your arm onto the staircase, etc., etc. CONVENIENCE is a large part of the reason that books took over from scrolls, and convenience is a large part of the reason that, whatever our attachment to ink on paper, screen reading will at least arrive at eventual parity with reading on a paper page.)

37. californiabruce - December 21, 2009 at 03:18 pm

All I can say is that if there is one thing I have learned by reading the comments to Chronicle articles here, it is this - when comments are anonymous, there is no way to determine their value. The educational level, occupation, and agenda of the author of each post are largely unknown - one must read between the lines and judge (crudely) on the basis of grammar and spelling whether the individual is educated or not. So I, for the most part, simply do not take these comments seriously. My sympathy to Mark for having to put up with most of these responses.

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