Friday, October 18, 2013

Physicality and Reading

A few months ago I found myself explaining how digital textbooks work to three “digital natives” now in their first years of college.  They seemed skeptical, probably wondering how someone in his mid-60s had a clue.

I was explaining how you highlight or bookmark passages and how you can make notes to yourself and keep track of where you are in the book.

I also described advantages such as keeping your place simultaneously over several different platforms (smartphone, tablet and PC) and the ability to search the text or quickly review highlights and bookmarks.

The three young students were still skeptical, but intrigued.  Digital natives are youth, 15-24 years of age with five or more years of experience using the Internet.  Worldwide, there are 363 million digital natives.

There is an excellent overview of studies purporting to show the importance of “physicality” to reading and learning for retention in the November issue of Scientific American. (I also read nearly all of my magazine and newspaper subscriptions online now) .

That term comes from a quote attributed to Tufts University researcher Dr. Maryanne Wolf, the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading BrainOut of the nearly 200 books I’ve read since it was published in 2007, the same year the Kindle was introduced, this is one of only three read on paper.

My Kindle has gathered dust for several years after my reading shifted to apps for smartphones and tablets the instant they were developed, including one for Kindle but without the Kindle.  I also often download from Indie Bound so the credit goes to my favorite local bookstore.

The magazine article notes that 20 percent of all books sold to the general public now are digital and it is well worth the cost of buying this particular issue alone.  It is as much an overview of how our brains deal with the act of reading as it is about digital vs. paper.

In the end, people in both groups perform equally well.  Saving one’s “back” by not having to lug around heavy books may be offset by the fact that digital reading may be more tiring.  The article also reviews a study that showed digital readers may focus more on “remembering” vs. “knowing.”

I am obviously biased, and I also read for different reasons at my age than people do as children or in school.  But there is one part that resonated.  If a document is particularly long, I find myself moving to a computer screen to read it and taking notes in an open email.  Or, on rare occasions, I print it out and read it the old fashioned way.

But I once read a 900-page book on my iPhone during stops along a 7,000-mile cross-country road trip prior to obtaining an iPad and found it more accessible and no more challenging to see than a paperback.

Some print magazines now such as Sports Illustrated, provide only the first few paragraphs to a story, gradually fading out the text and then giving you an online URL where you can read the rest.

I retain my paper copy subscription of that for the incredible photographs but read the magazine online.  I can see the day when the entire magazine will be just photojournalism and teasers for articles online.

This is also the future of community visitor guides. 

Techno-curmudgeons, many of them in their 40s, are being left behind without knowing it, probably still clinging to fax machines too.

My friends and family have encouraged me to make a book of some of the personal and family history essays posted on Bull City Mutterings from time to time.  It makes sense and I probably will one day, just not commercially.

It isn’t because they like paper.  Nearly all are digitally literate, even my soon-to-be 85-year-old-mom who moved to digital magnifiers thirty-years ago when she lost nearly all her eyesight in both eyes.

I think those who encourage me to create a paper book of these family history essays seek to make them easier to read to and be read by young children in generations to come.

I thought about all of this earlier this week during a reading to a very small group by Elizabeth Hudson, from her wonderfully illustrated book of essays “Wish You Were Here,” many of which have appeared in her “Editor’s Column” in issues of Our State Magazine.

Her publisher is Bernie Mann, a friend of mine, who in 17 years has taken a small magazine with 20,000 subscribers to one that is perfect-bound with almost 250-pages per issue, no less than 60% editorial including spectacular photographs.

Elizabeth and her team are rewarded with 170,000 paid subscribers and tens of thousands purchased on news stands.  Both her book and the magazine are excellent exceptions I make to digital-only reading.

She grew up near Farmer, North Carolina, a tiny crossroads community just north of the 51,000-acre Uwharrie National Forest and a little over 9 miles southwest down Old NC 49 from the American Classic Motorcycle Museum and Café that I often frequent on Harley rides. 

Her writing captures the essence of why so many of us transplants make North Carolina our adopted home.

1 comment:

JB said...

I often have this debate with my mother who has gone back to school and doesn't like having to download e-books. She says, "There's nothing that can compare to turning the pages of a book." She thinks the same of magazines and newspapers that are now more present and popular on digital platforms.

I, as a digital native, like the convenience of my Kindle and online publications because of the ability to search for and read what I want when I want. That's what this whole digital age is about; convenience and the ability to have what you want at your fingertips at any given time. As an avid reader, I have missed the physical presence of a book and turning pages. But, the money and time that I save virtually tend to push that thought aside.