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Sunday, September 28, 2014

The benefit of reading "actual books"

In the ongoing debate -- paper or ebook? -- a recent article caught my eye: Science has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books.  The gist of the article is that readers of "real" books engaged more fully with the text, had increased comprehension and could focus better on longer passages, and derived more relaxation while reading. That struck a chord.

I am a multi-book-at-a-time, multi-medium reader. At any one time, I have an Audible book on my iPhone, a book on CD in the car, a tower of paper books on my bedside stand, magazines in the bathroom, and several books queued up on my Kindle for anywhere I might go that might require even five minutes of waiting (car wash, dentist, car dealership, someone else's errand).

Before the Internet, the article says, people read in a linear fashion, using sensory details in order to remember where key information was by layout. I am definitely one of these readers who subconsciously remember page layout and relative percentage of book read in order to flip back to revisit a passage or point made. And this, I admit, is a shortcoming of my experience on my Kindle, because I don't see a two-page spread to help give the location context. Nor am I (yet?) cognizant of noting the location, measured in percentages, which appears at the bottom of each ebook screen. As a big reader of mysteries, I miss not being able to flip back to about "there," to check just who it was who entered the dining car on the Orient Express at the time in question.

On the other hand, I love the little tools that allow me to bookmark a particularly well-articulated passage or sentence, or to move a little cursor over a word in the text and voila! Instant dictionary!

In a way, this study puts me in mind of another change in the way we take in information in the Technology Age, and what is lost in the process: Satellite navigation systems. The first time Chris and I rented a car with a GPS in it, we were in Raleigh/Durham, NC and traveling throughout the state. Our Garmin system's supposedly female robot seemed all too human each time we deviated from her directions (e.g.,"HEY! There's a Starbucks!"), when her sighed "RE-di-RECT-ting," was said with an increasing amount of audible eye-roll. Nevertheless, she got us to wherever we were going without a problem...but once there, I had absolutely no visual picture of just where in the state of North Carolina we now were relative to where we'd come from. As someone who has always loved maps, this was a big hole for me. Even though we were there, I felt a little lost.

What's the best way? I suppose the answer is to find the areas where technology is most useful, edifying, illuminating, and brain-engaging and enjoy them, but in some places, keep our more old-school methods and tools intact. Make new friends, but keep the is silver and the other gold.

What say you, fellow multi-media readers? Do you agree with the study? Do you find one medium easier to read or easier to remember?

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