This doesn’t really offer any new ideas. That print offers better reading comprehension than ebooks is something that’s been shown by quite a lot of data recently. The telling quote for me is this:
Some scientists believe that our brain actually interprets written letters and words as physical objects—a reflection of the fact that our minds evolved to perceive things, not symbols… The differences between page and screen go beyond the simple tactile pleasures of good paper stock. To the human mind, a sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single “page” of information at a time. The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, turns out to be important to the mind’s ability to navigate written works, particularly lengthy and complicated ones. We quickly develop a mental map of the contents of a printed text, as if its argument or story were a voyage unfolding through space.
We’ve all read these blog posts and articles, we know how they go. These are all legitimate and important considerations.
Here’s an article, though, that mentions a couple benefits of print that I’ve not seen cited before—and I think these reasons are some of the best for continuing to allow print books to play an important role in all our lives:
As a professional librarian, I’m obsessed with the phenomenon of serendipitous discovery. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life came to me by chance; I discovered some of my favorite books and authors simply by browsing the shelves at the library and allowing interesting things to catch my eye. I’m more grateful for these unlooked-for experiences than I can say.
When I was in grad school, I had an idea to conduct research into the neurological underpinnings of reading on paper vs. computer screens vs. ebooks. While my vision for the project was beyond the scope of what I could accomplish in the program and thus never got started, I’ve continued to be obsessed with this facet of our modern technology. I’ve written about it on this blog before. I continue to follow research being done on the subject.
This article from Scientific American sums up well what we currently know about how our brains process written language through different presentation media. It appears that I’m correct in my belief that these acts of reading are qualitatively different as far as our brains are concerned.
As librarians, we need to account for these differences in our resources – especially when it comes to education and literacy initiatives.
This is simply one of the best summaries I’ve read of the importance of libraries:
Libraries are uniquely positioned to make sense of today’s tsunami-like exposure to information, to allow people to transform facts into knowledge and to move knowledge along divergent paths of practical relevance and unbridled inspiration.
Libraries are uniquely positioned to do this for an audience of all ages and status — children, college students, community members, university scholars, researchers and just plain folks who are just plain curious. From princes to paupers, libraries are a great equalizer and emancipator. In this new environment, we are all students. Libraries — both physical and virtual — are the places where we learn, discover old truths and synthesize new knowledge.
… [L]ibraries have moved beyond being mere repositories for shelf after shelf of printed materials, as valuable as that function is. They are gateways to a dynamic world of information and the manner in which that information is collected, presented and used is as important as the information itself.
Both of these articles illustrate a near-universal attitude toward the subject of animal and human behavior and emotions: Namely, the assumption that human and animal behaviors are essentially different.
Homo sapiens is unique on this planet in that we’re the only genus with only one species. It’s not normal to be the only species within a genus! All other animals exist in a world in which there are others very like themselves, but not them.
Humans, by contrast, take it for granted that there are no other species in the world like us.
Human anatomical modernity began approximately 200,000 years ago.
Human behavioral modernity began approximately 50,000 years ago.
The entirety of humanity’s known written record dates back approximately 5,000 years.
Consider what this means: Our brains have been as complex as they are now – we’ve possessed the same curiosity, drive, wanderlust, intelligence, and creativity – for at least 50,000 years. We’ve been exploring, experimenting, testing, learning, and figuring things out this whole time. It may be that we’ve been this curious and intelligent for the full 200,000 years of our existence.
If we take the 50,000 year mark – this means we only know, at most, 10% of everything we’ve done in that time. 90% of our own history is unknown to ourselves, except through some cave paintings and fossils.
If we take the 200,000 year mark – that percentage drops to 2.5%, leaving 97%-98% of our own history completely in the dark.