EBooks vs. Print: Is One Better than the Other?
Scientific American published an article recently that asks whether or not reading on screens is better than good ole’ paper.
Stepping away from the arguments centered around nostalgia for printed words on
paper, the article posits whether or not digital reading is actually good for
the reader. EBooks and eReaders may not be outselling printed books just yet,
but their increasing popularity is certainly driving sales, with an over 20% increase in eBook sales
over a single decade.
“How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read?” asks Ferris Jabr. “As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly?”
It is an important question to consider, not only because eBooks and tablets are becoming an integrated reality in the lives of many, but also because of the call for technology to be used in classrooms across the United States, and around the world, as a means of furthering education in the technological age. From toddlers to college students, using digital textbooks and classroom activities on the computer are becoming a norm for some; however, is it really for the better?
According to Jabr, studies on how reading differs between screens and paper have varied in their results over the past two decades. Prior to the 1990s, most studies found that reading on screens caused readers to read slower and comprehend less. Studies since, as technology has evolved and become increasingly incorporated in every day life, have been split down the middle with some saying there are benefits and others saying there are not.
The ability to read effectively on screen also depends on how much of it one does or for how long. “Recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common,” says Jabr.
Regarding the reading habits of children, a 2012 study by the Joan Ganz Center concluded that differences between reading print books and eBooks exist. The study examined co-reading between parents and children in order to interpret the differences between how a child interacts with print books versus eBooks. Print books appeared better in building literary skills, whereas eBooks, particularly enhanced or interactive eBooks, served better for prompting physical interaction, but their seemed to be no difference in content reading for both.
As for the nostalgia argument, for those longing for the return of physical pages to turn as opposed to taps on a screen, Josh Catone for Mashable writes, “Perhaps there is reason to hope that eBooks and print books could have a bright future together, because for all the great things e-books accomplish — convenience, selection, portability, multimedia — there are still some fundamental qualities they will simply never possess.
The current changes in the publishing industry have already been set in motion and there is no going back. Yet, there is still great importance in articulating the benefits, or lack thereof, of reading eBooks as opposed to print books, because they impact our daily education and lives. Perhaps it all requires a delicate balance.