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Screading vs. Reading

October 29th, 2009
Marketing Advertising Blog — VuManhThang.Com

readingDr. Gene Edward Veith had a fascinating blog post today, well, fascinating to me at least. Perhaps you too? Listen, I’m a publisher and I know all about trends in e-books. They represent the fastest growing type of “books” being sold today, hands down. And by fast, I mean, triple digit growth rates in quantities sold, as opposed to negative double digit decreases in nearly every other type of genre, at least according to the most recent data released by the Association of American Publishers, which I am legally not able to share with you, but take my word for it. It’s dramatic; however [and in life, there's always a "however"], for me the experience of total “mind immersion” in a book is much greater than an e-book. A book I can hold in my hands, skin on paper, not skin on plastic. I can underline. I can write notes. I can jot stars, or exclamation points in the margins. I can instantly flip around in the book. So far, no e-reader I’ve seen remotely replicates the experience of reading a book. I don’t mind reading fiction on an e-reader, but anything serious, that I want to “inwardly digest,” must be a real book. Here is a great article that speaks to the difference between “screading” [reading on screen] as opposed to reading-reading.

from Cranach: The Blog of Veith:

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about scholarship on the difference between reading from a page and reading from a screen (termed “screading”).

[Anne] 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. . . .

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.

I’m not sure I’m convinced. It definitely seems harder to read a long, sustained work on a screen as opposed to a book. Screading (if we are to adopt the word) does seem to work better for shorter shots of language. Let me ask you owners of Kindle or similar readers. Is your reading experience qualitatively different when you read on a Kindle vs. reading ink on paper? Are you missing anything?

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HT: Jackie

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Categories: e-books, Web/Tech
  1. October 29th, 2009 at 08:26 | #1

    Interesting indeed! Especially since I’ve been meaning to ask you when an electronic version of the TLSB is coming out… I was listening to an interview with the head editor of WIRED the other day, he has some interesting things to say about how the design aspects of print media are different than screen media as well. (Catalyst podcast #78)

    in Christ,

  2. Russel
    October 29th, 2009 at 09:31 | #2

    I have a Sony Reader. With fiction, I actually enjoy reading on it more than with a paper book (as long as the formatting is done well). Right now, I would much prefer to read technical material in a paper book. This is because I often (usually?) do not read straight through. I flip from one place to another, and that is very difficult to do with an ereader. In addition, a good Table of Contents/index would help a lot with technical books. Most of the books I have read so far have had an okay TOC or none at all. My ereader does not have the capability to take notes, though some do. I really didn’t want that ability as I primarily wanted to ereader for fiction. Plus, I’ve never been that great at taking notes!

  3. Ryan
    October 29th, 2009 at 10:48 | #3

    One advantage of a book over ‘screeding’ of any type: no need for batteries/power source.

  4. J Barnes
    October 29th, 2009 at 11:53 | #4

    My experience is somewhat different. I read ebooks on my iTouch using the free Kindle reader app. I find that I actually absorb MORE from an ebook, because seeing one small screen at a time forces me to slow down a bit and think about what I’m reading on more of a sentence level. When I read a print book, I seem to speed-read – seeing the words more as paragraphs than as sentences or individual words.

    I can’t tell you how much I love being able to have a large part of my library with me everywhere I go. The only types of ebooks I’ve found to be problematic are those with charts. The charts do not translate well onto a small screen.

    Any chance the Treasury of Daily Prayer will be available in a Kindle format anytime soon? I have the print version, but would love to be able to carry it with me on my iTouch.

    McCain: Yup: http://www.amazon.com/Treasury-of-Daily-Prayer/dp/B002QHATPQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256843353&sr=8-2

  5. J Barnes
    October 29th, 2009 at 12:19 | #5

    The finer points of the mechanics of ebook/print reading and comprehension aside, I’d like to state the obvious: You will always retain more of a book you actually read than one you do not.

    Yesterday while on my lunch break, I had a few spare minutes. My iTouch was in my purse, and I was able to sneak in a few minutes of reading the Larger Catechism. Since I’m not in the habit of carrying the print version of the Catechism with me everywhere I go, I can say for certain that the ebook enhanced my ability to retain the material at that point by 100%.

  6. Russel
    October 30th, 2009 at 08:30 | #6

    @J Barnes

    I agree. The Treasury of Daily Prayer would be the perfect book to have in eReader format. It is wonderful news that the Treasury is available in Kindle format. Here’s hoping it will soon be available in a format compatible with the Sony (hint, hint!).

    McCain response: Can the Sony reader handle Mobipocket files? https://www.mobipocket.com/EN/eBooks/eBookDetails.asp?BookID=223237 If not, here’s the “problem” with Sony Reader, similar to Kindle: the Sony reader is not an open platform. Part of the business model for Sony (and Mobipocket and most other e-reader companies) is to make money primarily by selling books and they often sell the reader at a loss. They prefer to lock their customers into their proprietary format so owners of the reader can only buy from their bookstore. In this business model, there is some incentive for Mobipocket to port their software to the Sony hardware (increased customer base) but no incentive for Sony to allow that to happen.

  7. Russel
    October 30th, 2009 at 11:11 | #7

    The Sony Reader can not handle MobiPocket files. It is possible (though questionably ethical/legal) to remove the DRM from the file and then convert it to a format it can handle. It will definitely be nice when ebook readers settle on an open format rather than dealing with their own proprietary ones. Having to jump through hurdles to get the books onto your reader (or wait for them to become available in your reader’s format) is a big disadvantage to ereaders at this point in time in my opinion.

  8. jmark2001
    October 30th, 2009 at 13:11 | #8

    I’ve owned a Kindle reader (first generation) since the first month it came out. Initially, I was enthusiastic and used it constantly. Now, I only use it when I am reading a very large book that I would rather not lug around in my workbag (I’m reading U.S. Grant’s “Memoirs” and Boswell’s “Life of Johnson”). I much prefer reading something in book form (I would never think of reading the triumvirate of great Stoic classics (and my favorite books), Marcus Aurelius’ meditations, Epictetus, and Seneca’s essays, on a Kindle: my notes and underlinings are too important to me. I also cannot imagine being without these books during some interruption in electricity (I live in Florida and hurricanes have knocked out my electric for weeks on end). It’s taken time to come to this conclusion, but I think that the Kindle is good only for ephemeral reading: the daily paper, a light novel, a mystery. Something valuable that requires study and mental application to fully appreciate? No way. The experience of making a book a personal possession (with markings, notes, etc.,) is missing with the Kindle experience. I own the Kindle; I do not own the books it carries in digital format in any palpable sense. One button click and –whooosh—they are gone. No Kindle book can be handed on to the next generation; they exist only in Amazon’s server. I think this gadget is useful for some things but that it is inadequate for others. An analogy: the Kindle is to books what paying to watch a movie in streaming format on the internet is to film. When I find a film I love, I will want a copy on DVD. With the Kindle, there is a sense that I am only renting or borrowing a book. Yes, I know that I could download it again from Amazon if my Kindle were to break, but these are books that I can never display in my home, stack on the shelves in my library, etc.

  9. J Barnes
    October 30th, 2009 at 16:56 | #9

    jmark2001′s comment about being able to have print books on display at home reminded me of another reason I prefer ebooks – they help me fight my pride. (This is not to imply that jmark2001 or anyone else who enjoys displaying books is prideful – I’m only speaking about my own particular struggles here). I have to admit that prior to switching to ebooks, I indulged in a bit of pride in displaying my books. When I began buying mostly ebooks, I had to leave behind the desire to impress others with my books. I still read the same types of things, but these days, I’m the only one who can see just what those things are. For me, that has been a good thing.

    McCain response: So what you are saying is that you are proud that you have done away with a source of pride. ; )

  10. October 30th, 2009 at 23:03 | #10

    can you blog about this idea or guest post it for me? dANNY

    Could scholars and neuroscientists (and bloggers!) benefit from a new
    word for “reading on screens” and what might that word be, in your

    I’m on a crusade of sorts to try to find a new word for “reading”
    on computer screens and Kindle and other e-reader device screens — other than
    “reading”, that is! — and I wonder if you’d join me in my quixotic quest.

    I’m pushing forward with my little crusade, step by
    step, despite the many naysayers, who keep telling me: “No, Danny,
    you’re wrong. There’s no need for a new for reading on screens.
    Reading is reading.”

    Sometimes I feel this word search campaign is like pushing a heavy
    stone up a steep hill, only to have it roll back
    a few feet every time we advance a few inches. But along the way, I
    have met some experts in the education and technology fields who have
    told me this is a good question to ask, and to keep pushing on,
    gently, quietly. So I soldier on.

    Although few people in the education and technology fields agree with me
    on this novel idea, but I remain determined. In fact, a
    few experts and forecasters around the world have told me privately
    that this crusade is worth it, if only to start a global discussion
    on the future of reading and the future of E-readers.

    Reading on screens is a whole new ballgame, I feel, and I
    believe Western culture needs a new word for this new human activity. It
    is more than just “reading”. On a screen, you scroll, you
    link, you see photos and videos, you use a mouse or buttons on a
    Kindle, and then of course, you read. This is

    So I feel we might need a new word for this, although I
    have no idea what that word will be in the end, because as many people
    have told me in the past year during the course of my crusade, new
    words happen organically and
    naturally, when the time is right, and when the need becomes more than
    apparent. So this is all just to jumpstart a good discussion, pro and con.

    I read, of course, on both paper surfaces and screens every day, and
    I love both.
    I am not a Luddite. I love technology as much as you do. One is not a
    priori better or worse than the other, just
    different, and we need to study these differences more with brain scan
    tests and other scholarly research. A new word might help us “see” the
    differeneces better. That’s my hunch.

    Some people online have suggested such words as “screening” and
    “screading”. Who knows which words we will adopt
    for this or when? I have no idea. I just like thinking about it now,
    and when the time is right, the new words or terms will come. One
    blogger told me we might even need two words for this, one for reading
    on computer screens, which are backlit, and another for reading on
    e-readers like the Kindle, which uses E-Ink for the

    I am open to all suggestions for the new words, and I am very
    patient about this crusade, while at the same time steadfast and
    committed to this
    seeminly impossible word search. Patience is my middle name: Danny
    “Patience” Bloom (1949 – 2032).

    do you, dear reader, have any suggestions on this? All ideas are
    welcome, and all comments are welcome, too, both pro and con. Let the
    discussion begin!


    Danny Bloom is an American blogger who has worked out of Asia since
    1991, where he maintains a blog “zippy1300″

  11. October 30th, 2009 at 23:41 | #11

    What I am MOST concerned about here, which is why I contacted Dr Mark Bauerlein last summer and asked him if he could blog one day about these issues on his blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education — called BRAINSTORM — he is a professor at Emory University and the author of a very important PRINT book about kids today and how they perceive life in the Screen Age as screen-agers — a good book, amazon it for details and a summary, the title itself is worth remembering, but darn it, i cannot recall it this morning here in Taiwan as i lose more brain cells at age 60 and counting…. SMILE……but what I am most concerned about here and maybe Dr McCain can blog about THIS one day here is this: do our brains process, digest, analyze, retain and critically THINK about the text we read on paper surfaces differently from reading same info on a screen, even a lovely cool trendy sleek slim Kindle screen? My hunch is that future MRI brain scans will show the different parts of the brain light up when reading on paper vs reading the same info on a screen, and while the reading experience itself is not a priori better or worse, just different, I feel that in fact reading on a screen will prove to be INFERIOR to reading on paper, in terms of brain chemistry. We are waiting for these tests to be done. Watch. Stay tuned. Prove me wrong! I don’t mind being wrong. But i have a feeling I am on to something here, and this is NOT my idea, I have gotten this hunch after reading the material about Dr Anne Mangen in Norway. She is the genius here. IN ADDITION, i have asked a major national USA news magazine to think about doing a MAJOR COVER STORY about the neuroscience of reading on paper vs reading on screens and they have tentatively said YES to my cover story pitch — which THEY will write, not me, I am just a lone blogger in Taiwan, nobody cares what I think, and I am not a player here, just an interesed, some might say OBSESSED, hehe, observer. So watch for this major cover story in mid-2010 or so. They need 6 months or so to plan it, write it, edit it, set it up. Maybe an 9-page spread. About all these issues. pro and con. But mostly focusing on the science of it all, the brain science.

  12. Christopher McNeely
    November 2nd, 2009 at 12:35 | #12

    “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.”

    Methinks the research from here on out will only confirm this disturbing trend. Anyone who has spent any time around today’s youth will know this is true even without the inevitable data to back it up.

  13. Don
    November 6th, 2009 at 11:36 | #13

    I have a notoriously shorþ attention span…that paired with a love of theology means I buy a lot of great theological books that I never have with me when I would like to read them. I’m somewhat of a coffee shop snob, and love to sit down with a good theological treatise and a cup of coffee, but before I purchased a kindle I would never have with me the materials I would like to have. I don’t know of too many people who read digitally so they can read at a deeper level but for me reading Luther digitally is better than not reading him at all. Having the kindle’s whispernet instant delivery system has allowed me to sample a number of books that I passed on in the concordia bookstore and ended up buying digitally at the coffee house.Finally I can enjoy my books when I want, where I want and not have to break my back lugging around my library with me.

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