Thursday, 15th October 2009
NY Times "Room for Debate": Does the Brain Like eBooks?
Access Does the Brain Like eBooks
The New York Times asked five experts to share their views on the brain, reading, and eBooks.
From the Introduction:
Writing and reading — from newspapers to novels, academic reports to gossip magazines — are migrating ever faster to digital screens, like laptops, Kindles and cellphones. Traditional book publishers are putting out “vooks,” which place videos in electronic text that can be read online or on an iPhone. Others are republishing old books in electronic form. And libraries, responding to demand, are offering more e-books for download.
Is there a difference in the way the brain takes in or absorbs information when it is presented electronically versus on paper? Does the reading experience change, from retention to comprehension, depending on the medium?
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The five experts responding to the questions are:
1) Alan Liu is chairman and professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he researches the relation between literature and information culture.
My group thinks that Web 2.0 offers a different kind of metaphor: not a containing structure but a social experience. Reading environments should not be books or libraries. They should be like the historical coffeehouses, taverns and pubs where one shifts flexibly between focused and collective reading — much like opening a newspaper and debating it in a more socially networked version of the current New York Times Room for Debate.
2) Sandra Aamodt is a former editor in chief of “Nature Neuroscience” and co-author of “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life.”
Reading on screen requires slightly more effort and thus is more tiring, but the differences are small and probably matter only for difficult tasks. Paper retains substantial advantages, though, for types of reading that require flipping back and forth between pages, such as articles with end notes or figures.
3) Maryanne Wolf is the John DiBiaggio Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”
My greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now,perhaps, videos (in the new vooks)
4) David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University, is the author of the forthcoming, “Judaism: A Way of Being,” which will be published by Yale Press in November. In a recent conversation at Edge.org he discusses his role in the invention of lifestreaming and “the cloud” in computing.
The tools (as usual) are neutral. It’s up to us to insist that onscreen reading enhance, not replace, traditional book reading. It’s up to us to remember that the medium is not the message; that the meaning and music of the words is what matters, not the glitzy vehicle they arrive in
5) Gloria Mark is a professor in the Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine. She studies human-computer interaction.
My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.
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Source: New York Times