Reading in Print vs. Electronic

Steven Johnson articulates my primary frustration when reading e-books: the inability to skim.

It’s a funny thing with print vs. ebooks; the digital age is supposed to be all about attention deficit disorder and hypertextual distractions, but ebooks lock you into reading them in a linear fashion more than print books do. It’s much easier to pick up a print book and flip through the pages, get a sense of the argument or structure, than it is with an ebook (or magazine.) It’s a very interesting interface challenge: I think it’s probably solvable, and I know many smart folks are working on it, but we don’t have a true solution yet.

On a related note, here’s Bob Sutton writing about some evidence that you comprehend / retain information better when reading off the printed page versus the screen. Though that advantage is narrowing as screens improve…

5 comments on “Reading in Print vs. Electronic
  • This is what has always amused me about many of the discussions around digital vs print content! So many people are unaware that the codex (the technology of the bound book, that is) was invented specifically to escape the forced linearity of the scroll, which was so heavy and unwieldy to roll and unroll that you really couldn’t easily move any direction but incrementally forward within the text. Of course, now browsers have “scroll bars” and while clearly navigation is nothing so difficult as with original scrolls, there is still a loss that is frequently overlooked…

  • So true! Related to skimming, e-books also make it difficult to”flip.” With physical books, it’s so easy to stick a finger in the book where you are, and be sure you can get back to it. That is, to flip back to the back to see a picture of the author, or flip back to the first chapter to re-read something important to the current text.

    I’ve wasted way too much time attempting to skim, looking for where I was reading in the first place!

  • I’m a 57-year-old librarian, so I’ve read plenty of print books. I also write book reviews, so you might say that in part, I read for a living. It is *so* much easier to read a book in e-format (in my case, on a Kindle). I can speed read more efficiently; I comprehend more; I can use a search to find every mention of a word. I have a hard time facing print books now–they’re unwieldy, uncomfortable, and impractical. I still own a few, but fewer all the time.

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