The Technium

A New Way of Reading


[Translations: Japanese]

I have a piece in the August 2010 issue of the Smithsonian magazine, their 40th Anniversary issue. They commissioned 40 views of the future. I wrote about the future of reading, or what they titled Reading in a Whole New Way

iPad-with-Smithsonian-first-cover-388.jpg.

An excerpt:

And it demands more than our eyes. The most physically active we may get while reading a book is to flip the pages or dog-ear a corner. But screens engage our bodies. Touch screens respond to the ceaseless caress of our fingers. Sensors in game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii track our hands and arms. We interact with what we see. Soon enough, screens will follow our eyes to perceive where we gaze. A screen will know what we are paying attention to and for how long. In the futuristic movie Minority Report (2002), the character played by Tom Cruise stands in front of a wraparound screen and hunts through vast archives of information with the gestures of a symphony conductor. Reading becomes almost athletic. Just as it seemed weird five centuries ago to see someone read silently, in the future it will seem weird to read without moving your body.

Books were good at developing a contemplative mind. Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking. A new idea or unfamiliar fact will provoke a reflex to do something: to research the term, to query your screen “friends” for their opinions, to find alternative views, to create a bookmark, to interact with or tweet the thing rather than simply contemplate it. Book reading strengthened our analytical skills, encouraging us to pursue an observation all the way down to the footnote. Screen reading encourages rapid pattern-making, associating this idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day. The screen rewards, and nurtures, thinking in real time. We review a movie while we watch it, we come up with an obscure fact in the middle of an argument, we read the owner’s manual of a gadget we spy in a store before we purchase it rather than after we get home and discover that it can’t do what we need it to do.




Comments
  • Edward Woodhouse

    Kevin Kelly is excellent at presenting the positive possibilities for especially high-functioning people — readers of electronic devices, in this blog. I fear, however, that he is not very good at estimating the modal response by the average user of new technologies. In my experience, the technological optimists vastly (and dangerously) overestimate the overall collective result of the admittedly marvelous technological potentials.

  • bodyhacker

    thanks for pointing out your excellent Smithsonian article : Until the technology that tracks eyemovement is placed into devices,
    “Nielsen Norman Group’s study found that reading speeds declined by 6.2% on the iPad and 10.7% on the Kindle compared to print.”

    The study was not deemed statistically significant and it’s hard to say if Nielson Media has a horse in the race (relationships to book publishers for example), but something to keep in mind.

    Perhaps it’s a good idea to track :)

    - bodyhacker

  • danny bloom

    @alex tolley, even with super screen hi res, my hunch still holds. Either hold water or holds bs. We shall see. Wait for UCLA MRI brain scan tests to be published, they are doing them now. Science will decide, not me or you.

    “In a few years the screen will have the same hi res qualities as a piece of paper. So static screens imitating books will be like books. What is different?”

    Alex, the difference is in the way the BRAIN picks off info and processes it from paper, that’s what! That’s my hunch. I might be wrong. Just a hunch.

    Sure, screening is almost the same as reading, but that small difference is what my hunch is all about. What if I am right, Alex? I know what you will say: “sorry, Dan, I don’t deal in hypotheticals.”

    SMILE

  • Victor

    A very interesting development.Reading will change more and more and will follow the digital media and its frequent users and consumers.But what Iam still wondering about looking at the future is what is the connection with writting and using words in daily life for future generations.Will the growing use of tools and technique create new standards and norms for the ways of communications and new ways of learning and using a language in daily life?What will happen to the culture of communication we know today ?Things will change and new possibilities can improve daily life in many ways but I am still very curious about these developments.

  • Danny Bloom

    ‘Frankenbooks’: new term for e-books

    Dear Editor, The New York Times (also appears in the Korea Times, today)

    As someone who enjoys reading on paper, whether it be a newspaper or a magazine or a book, I have coined the term “frankenbooks” as a new word for e-books and e-readers.

    I am using the term with humor, but also in a serious manner, and also as part of what we might call a cautionary tale, since device readers and e-books are here to stay, like them or not. I just hope “frankenbooks” do not replace paper books completely. If that happens, we’ve lost the game.

    At the same time, I like reading the news on screens, and using our screen technology to post letters like this one. I am not an anti-Internet Luddite.

    In fact, I like both paper and screens, and we need a balance.

    Hopefully, the term “frankenbooks” will make readers pause and think in which direction we are going. Toward the light, or toward the darkness, I’m still not sure.

    signed
    Mary Shelley

  • Matt Katz

    Dan – be civil.
    Your repeated posts sound like the posts that crazy people make, especially for a subject like terminology around reading technologies.

    When you ask a girl to dance and she doesn’t respond, ask again. At some point, the silence might mean she isn’t interested. It’s good to know what time that is.

  • Mark Edelman

    When the battery discharges, reading is over. The content can change. You can’t lend one book and still read other books. You have to hold it a certain way. Other books are in your hand to distract you at a click or two. You must be technical enough to manage your collection. And the technology is obsolete in a couple of years. No passing on classics to your grandchildren. Yes, a new way of reading: never confident in the security or longevity of media or content.

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Mark:

      When the battery discharges, reading is over.
      With solar charging and good batteries this need not happen very often.

      The content can change.
      Yeah!

      You can’t lend one book and still read other books.
      Everyone will have one, and you’ll have more than one device.

      You have to hold it a certain way.
      Not anymore than a book.

      Other books are in your hand to distract you at a click or two.
      Same with the pile of books right here.

      You must be technical enough to manage your collection.
      Easy to learn, like learning to read the alphabet.

      And the technology is obsolete in a couple of years.
      Yep, and the old gets better.

      No passing on classics to your grandchildren.
      The classics will be everywhere anytime.

      Yes, a new way of reading: never confident in the security or longevity of media or content.

  • Michael Lloyd

    I will be getting a digital copy of The Smithsonian ASAP as I am a great admirer of Kevin’s work.

    The comments are all very interesting, as far as I could go, but I believe there is a simple fact about publishing we must remember–regardless of what science may someday say about reading on something other than paper.
    Books have always been about the content, not the container. Same of all printed media.
    I greatly appreciate integrated hyperlinks, dictionaries and sometimes even multimedia components in the digital reading experience. All different from print, but an advancement for the reader.
    I’ve been catching up on some fiction this summer, reader a seven novel series on he iPad. I never read faster or more comprehensively. One can focus on a single page at a time, not heft a thick bound volume. And these old books are no different than they ever were. The fact that I started and stayed with the reading of them was.

  • dan e. bloom

    a top teck xpert today tells me
    Dear Mr. Bloom:

    ”I am very much an outsider in this matter.
    My view is that computer documents today,
    which simulate paper and have at most
    one-way links that can’t overlap (on the Web)
    are a travesty of what is possible and a
    crippling burden on the human race.

    Studies of effectiveness of today’s
    electronic documents merely go along
    with these inane conventions and give us
    no sense of what is possible.”

  • Danny Bloom

    Kevin, remember, a few months ago, I was in touch with you on these reading issues, and you were gracious enough to respond to my email note about paper reading vs screen reading, and I asked you what you thought about calling the act of reading on a screen, or off a screen, as some say, as “screening” — as a new word to differentiate this act from reading on paper, since the two reading modes are so different in terms of processing, retention and analysis. And you wrote back to me and said “I’d be happy to see ‘screening’ used in this way.”

    One thing your very good Smithsonian article does not mention is this: screening is vastly inferior, Kevin, to reading on paper, in terms of processing of text, retention of texy (memory and recall) and analysis (critical thinking skills), and future MRI scans will most likely prove my hunch, which nobody is talking about and which is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, that reading on paper is vastly superior for processing, retention and analysis, compared to screen-reading, but until the MRI testing begins and the academic papers on this are written and published, the media will go on blah blahing about “screening” as if it’s a good thing. It is not a good thing. It is good for email reading and blog reading and quick reads online, for speed and convenience, but screening is not reading, and even Kevin Kelly agrees with me, although he does not come out here and say it. Nobody will agree with me publicly until the MRI scan results come out, and then we will know that reading on paper lights up different parts of the brain that are superior for processing, retention and analysis. Stay glued to your screens, everyone! There is more here than meets the eye! I have asked Oliver Sacks, Anne Mangen and Maryanne Wolf to start these MRI scan tests as soon as possible, and Gary Small at UCLA, too, beacuse until we get the results and the papers are published, the news media will not report this. Danny Bloom? They ignore me! No Phd, no academic cred, no sponors, no funding, just an eccentric nobody living in a cave in Taiwan. Of course! It’s not news until the New York Times reports it….

  • Danny Bloom

    Kevin, how I wish you had used your appearance in Smithsonian to call screen-reading as “screening.” Why didn’t you?

    Imagine this rewrite: “But it is not book reading. Or newspaper reading. It is ‘screening’.”

    And then you explain what you mean by that new term. But you didn’t go down that road. Why? Sir? Explain yourself.

    As for the Nielson study on paper vs screen reading, that was just on 24 people, who are we kidding. Don Norman and everyone else on that team is in the pocket of the techno-industrial industy. Cannot trust them.

  • Danny Bloom

    Kevin, how I wish you had used your appearance in Smithsonian to call screen-reading as “screening.” Why didn’t you?

    Imagine this rewrite: “But it is not book reading. Or newspaper reading. It is ‘screening’.”

    And then you explain what you mean by that new term. But you didn’t go down that road. Why? Sir? Explain yourself.

    As for the Nielson study on paper vs screen reading, that was just on 24 people, who are we kidding. Don Norman and everyone else on that team is in the pocket of the techno-industrial industy. Cannot trust them.

  • Danny Bloom

    @Danny Bloom on July 6, 2009 at this very blog:

    Kevin, as you know, i coined the neologism “screening” to stand for reading on screen, to differentiate this from reading on paper surfaces, and you also told me recently that you’d be happy to see screening used as a verb this way. Well, i wrote an opedn on my ideas about screening and it has been rejected by the Boston Globe, the New York Times and the Wash Post, not to mention Technology Review and TechCrunch. Seems nobody wants to hear about new ideas these days. Maybe if you wrote about screening, as a new verb, for what we do online these days, from reading text online to watching videos online to looking at photos online, they might sit up and listen? Vindu Goel at the New York Times tech page told me “we will never write about your screening ideas here, Dan.” Erick Schonfield at TechCrunch told me to get lost. Ashlee Vance at NYTimes showed some initial interest while visiting Taiwan and Japan and then he stopped emailing me. Jason Pontin told me he would never assign any of his writers to write about my ideas of screening. Period. See? YOU were the only one who listened to me, and said GOOD IDEA. You and Alex Beam. See his column of June 19 2009 in Boston Globe titled “I screen you screen we all screen”. You won’t see it anywhere else, but nobody wants to hear it. Only you and Alex so far……sigh.

  • Danny Bloom

    @ Danny Bloom on August 23, 2009

    Great post, great ideas. One thing that also needs to be studied. I am convinced that reading on paper (“reading”) is so very different from reading on screens (“screening”, or as Marvin Minsky at the MIT Media Lab likes to call it, “screen-reading”) both mentally and emotionally, and not a prioro better or worse, just different, as Paul Saffo has said, that we need to study these differences in terms of which parts of the brain light up and in what different kinds of ways when we read on paper and when we “screen” online or on a Kindle. I would love to see Gary Small use MRI scans to study how sustained reading on paper and sustained screening on a screen differ in terms of brain chemisty and what this might mean for the future of the technium. I am sure the frontal pole, anterior temporal region, and the hippocampus regions of the brain are impacted very very differently when we read on paper from when we screen-read on screens. We need to study this. Anne Mangen in Norway and Maryanne Wolf at Tufts have already dipped their toes into the water here.

    [A year ago, I posted that, nada has happened, and Dr Mirsky also corrected me here, …..despite him having emailed me that he liked the term “screen-reading” and preferred it to screening…..saying: “Um, I do not (as Dan Bloom likes to suggest) “like to use the term ‘screen-reading’”: I only suggested that he use it himself. In any case, I’ve come to greatly prefer reading *important” texts on screens — mainly because one can quickly search a text and also install useful hyperlinks to my other files.”

    But on ya, Kevin, for using screen-reading in your Smithsonian piece. It’s a step in the right direction. Until the MRI scan papers come out, we are in the dark. But watch! Bloom will be proven right. But like Dr Small says in the LA Times today: “It won’t matter, the train is already out of the station.”

    What Small really said was:…..re online readers often demonstrate what Small calls “continuous partial attention” as they click from one link to the next. The risk is that we become mindless ants following endless crumbs of digital data.

    “People tend to ask whether this is good or bad,” he said. “My response is that the tech train is out of the station, and it’s impossible to stop.”

    Impossible. To. Stop.

    Text from LA Times: Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of “iBrain,” said Internet use activated more parts of the brain than reading a book did.
    On the other hand, online readers often demonstrate what Small calls “continuous partial attention” as they click from one link to the next. The risk is that we become mindless ants following endless crumbs of digital data.

    “People tend to ask whether this is good or bad,” he said. “My response is that the tech train is out of the station, and it’s impossible to stop.”

  • Anonymous Friend

    remember the old Desiderata, Kevin? see the new er ”DIGIRATA”

    The Digirata 2.0

    GO placidly amid the hot links and the distractions,

    and remember what peace there may be in unplugging.

    As far as possible without surrender

    be on good terms with all persons online and never never flame others or engage

    in any kind of cyberbullying or cyberstalking.

    Key in your truths quietly and clearly;

    and read what others have to say, too

    even the dull and the ignorant;

    for they too have their stories and ideas to impart, even if you disagree.

    Avoid angry and aggressive flamers and out of control cyberbullies,

    for they are vexations to the spirit of the internet.

    (Btw, remember to spell \”internet\” in a lowercased fashon)

    If you compare your blog with other blogs that are better and have

    more visitors,

    you may become vain and bitter, so just enjoy your own blog for what

    it is and don’t

    worry abut the big guys.

    Enjoy your online achievements, as well as your plans for future downtime.

    Keep interested in your own blogging, however humble;

    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution who you give your personal details to;

    for the world is full of trickery and Nigerian scams waiting

    to part you from your money.

    Be yourself when you are online,

    or, if it so pleases you, adopt a persona.

    Use your real name or a pseudonym for your userid,

    and let no one steal your password,

    especially those pesky phishers.

    Take kindly the counsel of your fellow bloggers

    and gracefully chat with your Facebook

    friends in real time. But don’t over do it,

    and always take time out to unplug

    and enjoy a weekly

    internet sabbath.

    You are a child of the Digital Age,

    no less than the keyboards and the pixels;

    and you have every right to blog to your heart’s content.

    And whether or not it is clear to you,

    no doubt cyberspace is unfurling as it should

    and you are part of the great equation: E = mc2

    Therefore be at peace with Amazon and Yahoo,

    and make of your Kindles and your nooks what you will.

    E-readers to the fore!

    Whatever your labors and your aspirations,

    in the multitasking distractions of cyberspace

    keep peace with your soul — if you still have one.

    Remember: With all its sham, mattdrudgery, and broken keyboards,

    it is still a beautiful online world.

    Be cheerful. Use the smilely emoticon as much as possible.

    Strive to be a happy camper and unplug often.

    ———————————————-

    BEING:

    [An encrypted message found in a bottle floating across a glaring

    screen in the middle of Manhattan, and keyed in by an anonymous

    bloke in Nome .]

  • Tom Crowl

    A general thought on the evolution of the Technium beyond the planetary egg:

    While the first-stage in the evolution of consciousness on a planet obviously did not require design by the consciousness that arose…

    It may be that to survive the leap that theories regarding the “Great Silence” seek to explain…

    We must not blindly allow a completely random evolution of whatever consciousness we may come to regard as this new soul of the planet…

    Perhaps not only our tools must be designed… but also the ways that we interact with our global social organism.

    The Problem in Scaling Altruism: Where’s the Intelligent Life?
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/04/problem-in-scaling-altruism-wheres.html

    Political Fundraising: Act Blue, Facebook and the Missing Network Imperative
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/08/political-fundraising-act-blue-facebook.html

  • Danny Bloom

    Monday, a day later. I hope I am not taking up space here. If so, tell me, I will shut up. But this seems the only way to reach you, Kevin, since you do not answer your emails. Sigh. Some people! VIPS! Goes to their head! Smile.

    What i wanted to add is this. Steven Berline Johnson who also does not answer his emails, what’s with all you VIPS anyways?, writes in a recent NYT essay that “once solitary, reading is a now a social activity,” headline in my paper, that Kindle has a new feature whereby some words or phrases that are way popular with fellow readers get a d.o.t.t.e.d. line underneath them on the Kindle screen so that screeners can can use what Amazon is calling “popular highlights” which allows other screeners to highlight the said passage or quote. The feature can also be disabled if you do not want to use it. Is this the future you want, Kevin? Social reading? No more solitary thinking on one’s own? Ouch.

  • danny bloom

    and one last note, re my new coinage of “frankenbooks” — as new term for e-books and e-readers …part humor, part serious, part cautionary tale, part satire, part fun, all in the spirit of give and take, since device readers and e-books are here to stay, like them or not. I just hope “frankenbooks” do not replace paper books completely. If that happens, we’ve lost the game.

    Kevin, when i first coined frankenbooks, i googled it to see if it was online yet, and I got were a bunch of links to Al Franken’s books. Really. But what do you think of calling device readers as frankenbooks? I am trying to make a point, which I am sure you get, and which i am also sure you disagree with. That’s okay. Frankebooks are here to stay. They’re useful, in their own way. I agree.

  • Dan E. Bloom

    Kevin, at my instigation, Mark Bauerlein at the Chronicle of Higher Ed linked to your post above, and 4 others:

    http://chronicle.com/blogPost/E-Reading/25638/

  • da

    On the other hand:

    a story in Science Daily, an important one in the research base just beginning to accumulate on the impact of screens in the home, notes: and the headline is “Children with Home Computers Likely to Have Lower Test Scores, Study Finds.”

    Researchers at Duke University examined home computer access and use in North Carolina and found that efforts to widen Internet access among the population “would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.”

  • daniel halevi bloom

    Kevin and any ghosts still reading here:

    There is a good interview here, the most important interview you will ever read in your post-digital life.

    http://green.blorge.com/2010/07/will-mris-help-us-determine-if-paper-reading-is-better-than-electronic-reading/

    PS: funny the CAPTCHA words for my post here were “blooms for”

  • daniel halevi bloom

    What is the best way to read a book – in paper form or electronic form? Do the different mediums work better for different types of readers or those with disabilities? These are just a few of the questions raised by the new technologies that allow people to read on computer screens, phone screens, tablet screens and ereader screens.

    Research is being done using Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRIs. The scans are looking at what part(s) of the brain light up when we read. The studies have also explored the differences between reading by normal people and people with dyslexia or autism. The findings have shown the differences between what parts of the brain are activated when poor readers and good readers read.

    The research that has been conducted specifically targeting electronic reading has been more antidotal than scientific. A small study (only 24 subjects) determined that reading electronically was ten percent slower than reading from paper. Other studies have shown that reading and surfing the internet actually boosts brain function.

    Dan Bloom, a self described “semi-retired gadfly”, journalist and public relations consultant who lives in Taiwan raised the question of which one is better, not from an academic or scientific background but out of curiosity. He has watched the growth of electronics from the early days of computers to the current use of electronic reading for everything from newspapers and magazines to children’s books. Following is an email discussion with him about why MRI studies are needed.

    Question: You do not have a Ph.D, nor any academic background or
    affiliation, and you are not connected with any research institution or e-reader manufacturer or book publisher, why are you so concerned about these issues and why you?

    DAN: So why I am doing this, calling for this research, with so much energy? I just want to know! I am concerned that reading on screens might be not be as good as reading on paper in terms of brain chemisty, and I want to know the truth, from the standpoint of neuroscience. And if I am wrong about my hunch that paper reading is superior to screening, then I will adjust my thinking accordingly. I want to see the facts, presented by experts. Anecdotal evidence no longer cuts the cake. We need facts.

    ME: Dan, a Google search on brain scans of children and adults reading uncovered some interesting information. The scans usually use an MRI while people are perfectly still and reading from a screen ahead of them. I also found an article that implied that reading on computers/screens is used to improve peoples reading abilities. There are also studies that show computer searches stimulate middle aged and older adults brains. (Studies are referenced above.) Do any of these studies answer your question?

    DAN: Thing is, for my purposes, this does NOT answer the question that I have posed which is: Is reading on paper surface, same text, [superior/ inferior/ the same?] compared to reading the same text on a screen, in terms of brain chemistry and which region of the brain light up for themes of processing the info, retaining it and critically thinking about it.

    BUT THE hunch i am going after is the comparison of PAPER reading vs
    SCREEN READING for:
    1. processing the info in the brain, digesting it
    2. retention of it, memory
    3. analysis
    so my theme is the COMPARISON, and nobody has done this research in
    the entire world, I am sure….BUT THEY SHOULD soon. one UCLA scientist told me last week IT IS POSSIBLE TO DO THIS, but it is costly and expensive and his team is busy with other things, but he hopes to see the work done soon too.

    ME: Using MRI’s is going to expensive. How would the studies be financed?

    DAN: Yes, conducting MRI brain scan research on lab volunteers reading on paper compared to others reading on screens (Kindles or Nooks or iPhones or computer screens) will be expensive. But institutions like UCLA and Harvard and Princeton and Tufts and other major universities in Europe and Japan will be able to carry out this research over the next few years. Scholars like Anne Mangen in Norway, Maryanne Wolf at Tufts, Oliver Sacks at Columbia and Gary Small at UCLA are aware of these issues and will likely be at the forefront of the research. It might take 5 years, it might ten 10 years, but the studies and academic papers will come out.

    ME: What do you think the brain scans will show?

    DAN: I have no idea what the research will say. The MRI studies might show the reading on paper is superior to reading on screens, or they might say the opposite. Or they might say there is no real difference. But we need to find out with neuroscience, not just anecdotal evidence.

    So far, there is not one academic paper published about MRI brain scan studies on this topic, but several top people in the field have told me that such research is imperative and that it will happen sooner or later.

    Anne Mangen, at the University of Stavanger in Norway, has already
    published a paper about some of this work, but she did not use MRI
    scans as part of her research. Still, one can summarize the importance of Mangen’s research on the difference between screen and print reading this way:

    “The process of reading on a screen involves so much physical
    manipulation of the computer that it interferes with our ability to
    focus on and appreciate what we are reading. Online text moves up and down the screen and lacks a physical dimension, robbing us of a sense of completeness. The visual happenings on a computer screen and our physical interaction with the device and its setup can be distracting. All of these things tax human cognition and concentration in a way that a book, newspaper or magazine does not.”

    ME: There is so much research on brain activity using PET scans why would MRIs be better than PET scans?

    DAN: Your question is a good one. I am only zeroing in on MRIs as a target method but using PET scans would also do the trick. We need research by academics and neuroscientists worldwide on how the brain “does” reading– both on screens and on paper surfaces — to learn more about these phenomena, and both PET scans and MRI scans will be useful for the studies. Research scientists will know better which method fits their mode of research.

    ME: Even if there are differences shown between reading a book and reading on an electronic device, does that really mean it is harmful or just that its different?

    DAN: Good question. Let’s say that huge differences are seen between
    reading a book on paper compared to reading the same book on a screen. Will it mean anything? If the differences are huge, it will mean something, for sure. If the differences are very slight, maybe it will not mean much. And if there are no differences, then we can all relax. And if it turns out that screening reading is superior to paper reading, then that’s good to know too. We need to ask neuroscientists to tell us what’s going on. However, as Gary Small at UCLA recently told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times: “People tend to ask whether this is good or bad,” Small said. “My response is that the tech train is out of the station, and it’s impossible to stop.”

    He was referring to an earlier note that online readers often demonstrate what he calls “continuous partial attention” as they click from one link to the next. The risk is that we become mindless ants following endless crumbs of digital data, Small indicated. But his final note that the tech train is already out of the station and cannot be stopped is telling.

    ME: How likely is it that manufacturers who have heavily invested in ebook technology will pay any attention to the findings if they are negative?

    DAN: Very good question. It is highly likely that they will pay no attention to whatever findings come out. If the findings back the superiority of reading off screens, they will rejoice and help to publish the results. If the findings say that reading on paper and reading off screens is more or less the same, in terms of brain chemistry and reception, then they will also rejoice. But if the findings come back that paper reading is superior to screen reading, it won’t make a difference to the e-reader industry. As a friend of mine in the industry told me recently:

    “Just as dire warnings about cancer and radiation from excessive cellphone use have more or less gone unheeded, the same thing will happen with the results of the MRI tests on paper reading versus screen reading. It’s too late to do anything about it. The reading devices are already out there in the marketplace and in the schools. I don’t think a few warnings will change a thing. It didn’t stop the cellphone industry. It won’t stop the e-reader makers. It’s a billion dollar industry, and it’s getting hotter every day.”

    ME: It may actually turn out the paper reading is better for some and that screen reading is better for others. Who knows? Without the research you are proposing, we won’t know.

  • zm

    My 3 year old child will always choose the multi-touch puzzles, over watching Children’s programming on TV. It’s a huge behavioural shift based on the indisputable nature of its interactivity and ability to engage. In many ways it goes back to the time grandparents used sand to teach children alphabets, numbers and drawings, a simplicity that’s exceedingly pleasing.

    What is amazing is the dynamic of low tolerance of bloatware.
    If a graphic icon (e.g parts of a fish, shapes, something figurative) is large or has too much detail or doesn’t really move around in smooth and interesting ways, there’s no way you’re going to buy more apps from that company.

    Its inevitable that companies will launch multi-touch screens at a reasonable price for children. However I do hope they go through a battery of tests on radiation emission, mercury and lead levels, optimum weight, and hand(carpal related issues) and eye (whether or not it leads to “dead zones” in the retina with prolonged use) ergonomics. Tech companies really have an oppurtunity to “get it right” this time.

    I do feel that there is something lacking, and that is the ability to sell or trade a particular app once a child has grown out of it.
    Of course apps are cheap 99c – $4.99 and of course you can delete it once your workspace becomes cluttered. It’s just mentally healthier to stop deleting things if they no longer engage one and pass it on to someone who might appreciate it and at a price affordable to them. It’s also a workable alternative, a healthy self-regulation, more individual choice which really is as effective a mechanism to combat piracy than draconian DRM enforcement.

  • Danny Bloom

    A thought experiment, fiction for now. Repeat: This is not a real news story.

    MRI brain imaging lab studies differences in screen, paper reading

    April 20, 2015, [NOTE DATE!]

    Boston — Ellen Marker studies reading. But not off screens or in paper books.
    Her research is done in a Quincy laboratory.

    The pioneering neuroscientist analyzes brains in their most enthusiastic
    reading state, hoping to understand the differences between reading
    off screens and reading on paper surfaces.
    Like me, Dr Marker feels that her studies will show reading on paper
    is superior to reading off screens in terms of
    retention, processing, analysis and critical thinking.

    But first, let’s see what the scans will be like.

    Dr Marker asks me to put myself into an fMRI machine so she and his
    team can study which areas of the brain are activated by reading text
    on paper compared to reading the same text on a computer screen or a
    Kindle e-reader.

    And this is why I’m here. Today I will donate my brain scans to science.

    Among the things that Market has discovered so far is that reading on
    paper might be
    something we as a civilization should not ever give up.

    “Even though reading on screens is useful and convenient, and I do it
    all the time, I feel that
    reading on paper is somethine we should never cede to the digital
    revolution,” Marker, 43, says. “We need both.”

    On the day I climb into the brain imaging cocoon, I am thinking about
    what it all might mean.
    But since I am just a guinea pig and not a scientist, I will have to
    wait for the results.

    I enter a sterile lab, and Marker and her four associates greet me,
    all in white lab coats.
    As they hand me my a pale blue gown to change into, I have
    second thoughts — “How can I read while lying down horizontally my
    back, not my preferred reading mode?” — but decide to push myself.

    Science needs me!

    The scientists load me into the machine and I’m off.

    Next step: They strap my head down, because any movement distorts the
    brain imaging. Ever try to read a book without facial movements?

    I feel as if I’m being shoved into the middle of a toilet paper roll,
    the walls so close my eyelashes almost graze them.

    Then I hear a voice through the earphones I’m wearing. It’s Dr Marker.

    “You okay in there?” she asks.

    Graduate student Dan Smith, 52, tells me to relax before
    running around to join the other scientists in the control room.

    With the invention of the fMRI only 20 years ago, along came the
    ability to look at brain activity. Marker says that by understanding a
    function as gigantic as reading, how the reading brain does its magic
    dance, a response that hijacks all of
    one’s attention, she might also learn how reading on screens could be
    inferior to reading on paper.

    “The more we understand how the brain works,” she says, “the more we
    will be able to help people modulate its activity.”

    As the machine switches on, it sounds like a jackhammer. I follow
    Marker’s instructions and as I do, the group watches my brain on
    their computer monitors. I willl read passages from a novel, and then
    later I will read
    the same passages on a Kindle. I just hope the Kindle does not blow up
    inside the brain scan machine!

    Research and teaching take up most of Marker’s time, but when she has a
    spare moment, she thinks about what all this might mean for the future
    of humankind.

    During my first hour in the fMRI machine, researchers map my brain’s
    reading paths
    to find out which parts correlate to
    which regions of the brain.

    “You have 10 minutes,” Marker says through my earphones near the end
    of our test. “Keep reading.”

    On the
    other side of the glass pane, the scientists can see my brain lighting
    up as I read on paper and as I read on a screen. Regions light up in
    different ways, Marker says.

    Komisaruk discusses what her research could do for the future of
    humankind. “We need to know
    if reading on screens is going to be good if it replaces all our
    reading on paper.”

    Marker’s lab has paid me a
    $100 subject fee, so I want to give them their money’s worth.

    After all, it’s not easy to get funding for this stuff — Marker
    says she spends at least half of her time applying for grants.

    “There’s no premium on studying paper reading modes versus
    screen-reading modes in this society,” she tells me
    as Smith murmurs, “What do you expect? The gadgetheads want to take over.”

    When the tests are over, Market tells me the data takes two hours to
    convert, but it can take much longer to
    make sense of it.

    “We’ll be at this for a while,” she says.

    One of the biggest conundrums turns out to be a nagging
    question for all mankind: What if reading on screens is not good
    for retention of data, emotional connections and critical thinking skills?

    Marker begins slipping more and more
    into her thoughts. “Neurons, little bags of chemicals, create
    awareness,” he says, “but how? How does the brain create the mind?
    What is reading, really?”

    I see that at the heart of all her research, there is a
    philosopher trying not only to understand reading, but also figure out
    the nuts and bolts that make up the human experience.

    “It’s the hard question I want to answer,” she says. “What creates
    consciousness?

    “I find that,” she adds, “and I find the Nobel Prize.”

    NOTE:

    And as Mike Shatzkin told me when I told him my views on paper vs screen reading, he said: “Danny, you may very well be right, but just as nobody heeded the calls that radiation and cancer might impact cell phone use, do you think makers of device readers will listen to you or even care if you are right? No way!”

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    see what happens Kevin when you don’t moderate these comments, you get SPAM….you seem asleep at the wheel…why have a blog if you don’t answer, asshole!@

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  • Christophe

    “We review a movie while we watch it”

    whoever review a movie while watching it, instead of, I don’t know, WATCHING it, is an idiot.

  • blinddrew

    I think one of the things that this article doesn’t touch on is the difference in attention span required. I am a big fan of the screen and its connectivity but i wonder sometimes if we are losing our ability to concentrate?
    Maybe i’m just getting old…

  • marty cohen

    If you think carpal tunnel is bad, wait till you see all the damaged wrists, elbows, and shoulders from having to move your arms while reading or anything) over a long period of time.

  • Alex Tolley

    I’m not buying this, nor Danny Bloom’s arguments that reading from a screen different from reading a book.

    Thought experiment. In a few years the screen will have the same hi res qualities as a piece of paper. So static screens imitating books will be like books. What is different?

    OK, you say that the screen is interactive, like that in Minority Report. So is the real world. You use your body to navigate a city and read different images and text as you go, steering your attention as you go.

    So is screen reading really more about the presentation of materials and navigation than the medium itself? Why call it screen reading (screening…ugh) instead of what it really is?

    Perhaps you and Nick Carr should get together and discuss this.

  • Blinddrew

    Think you’re coming on a bit strong there Mr Bloom, if Kevin was moderating he probably would have done something about someone who trolls the thread repeated making the same point. Seriously, there’s 25 comments on here and about 19 of them are yours, replying, as far as i can tell, to yourself. Give it a rest please.