Screading vs. Reading
Dr. 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.
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?