Reading on paper versus reading on screens

I’m a screen kinda guy but even I’ve noticed that there is a difference, most particularly in my comprehension and retention of what I read. I get more from novels printed in paper- or hardback but I’m surprised to say I enjoy reading them more on my iPad. That is a hard thing to admit, feels like I’m going against what I’ve believed all my life. but it’s true.

It just might also be bad.

Of course, there’s no clear-cut answer to the paper vs. screen question—it’s tangled with variables, like what kind of medium we’re talking about (paper, e-book, laptop, iPhone), the type of text (Fifty Shades of Grey or War and Peace), who’s reading and their preference, whether they’re a digital native, and many other factors. But many researchers say that reading onscreen encourages a particular style of reading called “nonlinear” reading—basically, skimming.

In a 2005 study out of San Jose University, Ziming Liu looked at how reading behavior changed over the past decade, and found exactly this pattern. “The screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively,” Liu wrote. In the face of endless information, links, videos, and images demanding our attention, we’ve adapted our reading to fit our screens.

Everything Science Knows about Reading on Screens – (no author listed) Fast Company Design (8 July 2015)

Now here’s an interesting thing: I copied and pasted that quote out of the Fast Company’s Design section and it looked fine there but I felt compelled to break it up into two paragraphs. I just added a return, I wouldn’t alter the quote, but on this screen at this time, it looked like an impenetrable wall of letters. On the original site, it looked fine.

So I’m looking at it on the same screen but the font choice, the layout, the spacing make giant differences. Read the full piece

Weekend Read – but not on laptops

Last week, at the Aspen Ideas festival, there came an interesting little moment between Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist, and Jim Steyer, a lawyer and entrepreneur. Both declared that they’d banned laptops and other electronic devices in their lecture halls.

“Many of the students actually appreciate that,” said Toyama, who teaches at the University of Michigan, “because it encourages real discussion, and they know that as soon as there’s a laptop in front of them, they’re going to start Facebooking each other, and that means that they’re not present for the class.”

Steyer jumped right in. “You should know that in my Stanford classes five years ago, I started banning laptops,” he said. “There was no way they were paying attention. They all whined about it constantly for the first three weeks.” He added that his colleague, with whom he co-taught the course, was terrified they’d made the wrong choice. “She was like, They’re gonna just kill us on the reviews!” he said. But by the end, their students, too, expressed gratitude.

The Case Against Laptops in the Classroom — Science of Us

Read the full piece but please print it out first. Concentrate. There will be questions.

Become the smartest person in the room

I’m not certain I agree with this because I do agree with the Aaron Sorkin line from Sports Night:

 If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.

But, still, it’d be nice to be one of the smart ones and reportedly there are ways to pull that off which don’t involve hiring a bunch of clowns. According to Gwen Moran in Fast Company:

READ . . . A LOT
It stands to reason that actively seeking out challenging, thought-provoking information will make you smarter. A widely reported 2012 study done by researchers at the University of California, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, found that students who spent 100 hours or more studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) actually had changes in their brains. The findings indicated that such intensive study showed changes in the parts of the brain associated with reasoning and thinking.

How to Become the Smartest Person in the Room: Here are Ways to Both Appear Smarter and Actually Up your IQ – Gwen Moran, Fast Company (11 June 2015)

I like that one. I like that a lot. I’m less keen on the very next piece of advice which is some junk about regular exercise. Sheesh.
Read the full piece.

More grandmother, eggs and email advice

Given that I’m just after admitting to you that I have today followed my own advice and it worked – and so I am therefore feeling good about the day but also a bit unbearably smug – there is something else.

One other thing I’ve done today that I swear up and down in the The Blank Screen book that we should all really, really do – and we don’t. I try. But today I did it and it worked.

I didn’t read any emails until the top of the hour.

Right now, for instance, it’s a few minutes past the hour and I can see that there are two emails waiting for me. Wait. Three. I should really also switch off that notification –

– and the phone just went. Well. Other that that, I’ve been good. And it’s helped.

So. Switch off your emails and only let yourself read or write any at the top of the hour.

Make time for reading

I found this on 99U in a piece called How to Make Time for New Hobbies but it boils down to reading and it boils down to that advice coming from a book. There is something meta about a book telling you to read, but I like it. The book is called The Obstacle Is the Way and the author is Ryan Holiday.

Said author says:

Where do you get the time to eat three meals a day? How do you have time to do all that sleeping? How do you manage to spend all those hours with your kids or wife or a girlfriend or boyfriend? You don’t get that time anywhere, do you? You just make it because it’s really important. It’s a non-negotiable part of your life.

…Perhaps the reason you having trouble is you forgot the purpose of reading. It’s not just for fun. Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you.

How to Make More Time for New Hobbies – 99U

That is a direct quote from the book except that I got it indirectly: this is the same passage that 99U cites. Go read what they say about it in the full piece, would you?

Airplane days, trains and pretend commutes

I read somewhere of a fella who goes flying in order to avoid phone calls. That’s excessive, even for me.

But having found that necessary business trips came with unexpected benefits from being out of contact with email and the web, he now regularly conjures up a cheaper and greener equivalent. He just decides that today is a Airplane Day and switches everything off.

Similarly, there are people who do pretend commutes. They have to be people who are working at home because otherwise their pretend and their real commutes would overlap, creating a paradox that might unfurl the entire space-time continuum. Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario.

But otherwise they do a real pretend commute. They ‘leave’ at the same time – they don’t go out of the house but they dress, they hurry to finish breakfast and down one last gulp of tea. And then they shut themselves away for 15 or 30 minutes. It’s usually the same length of time that they used to have as a genuine, real-life commute and usually I think it shortens a bit as the years go by and they’re under more pressure to work.

This is all about releasing and controlling and channelling pressure, though.

During a genuine, real-life commute, there isn’t much you can do. True, these days you can work on your phone or iPad, but you could also see those being nicked away from you.

So you read.

The news, a book, anything.

The fact that you cannot do anything else means you do it and for that 15 or 30 minutes, you’re calm.

It’s easy to do when you’re really commuting, it is much harder to make yourself have a pretend commute – but the benefits are the same. You start the working day ready and composed. You take in information, you learn things, you just enjoy thinking about different things. And for everyone, that’s fuel.

For us as writers, it’s the sand that becomes the pearl.

And I say this sitting on a train doing exactly the work I’d be doing at my home office. Well. I did read a book, though. Come on. I read all of it.

Biggest ever book group or what?

I’m not sure. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he’s going to read one book a fortnight and – well, let him explain:

My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.

Thank you to all 50,000 of you in our community who gave me suggestions for different challenges.

Many of you proposed reading challenges. Cynthia Greco suggested I read one book a month that another person chooses — and got 1,900 likes on her suggestion. Rachel Brown, Bill Munns, Marlo Kanipe and others suggested I read the Bible. My friend and colleague Amin Zoufonoun suggested I read and learn everything I can about a new country each week.

I’m excited for my reading challenge. I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.


I’m not clear yet whether this means he’ll just let us know what he’s reading or will take suggestions. Or should I say really take suggestions: if 50,000 people tried to tell me what to read, well, I’d pretty quickly tune out the Bible ones but I think that’d still leave dozens of suggestions. A minute. Also, I’m mithered over anyone who says something like “I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books”. I don’t know why.

Read the full piece: it’s Zuckerberg’s blog on Facebook.

Hat tip to Re/code for pointing this out.

How books shape writers in unexpected ways

Quick: who is this?

just finished “Moby-Dick,” which scared me off for a long time due to the hype of its difficulty. I found it to be a beautiful boy’s adventure story and not that difficult to read. Warning: You will learn more about whales than you have ever wished to know. On the other hand, I never wanted it to end. Also, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez. It simply touched on so many aspects of human love.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time, and your favorite novelist writing today?

I like the Russians, the Chekhov short stories, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I never read any of them until the past four years, and found them to be thoroughly psychologically modern. Personal favorites: “The Brothers Karamazov” and, of course, “Anna Karenina.”

Bruce Springsteen: By the Book – (no author listed), New York Times (2 November 2014)

Bugger. The link there gives it away. That’s Bruce Springsteen listing and discussing the books that shaped and stay with him. I just think it’s interesting how the books you remember are the ones that define you. Read the full piece. And also take a look at Brain Pickings, which spotted this, and would now be on my all-time website reading list.

Paper not better than ebook for reading, except…

I love ’em both, paper and ebooks. But it has been said and I have wondered whether I retain more from things I read on paper than on screens. Maybe so, but if it’s true, it looks like that may be more down to me than to the technology – except in one key respect.


A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month and set to be published as a paper, gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings.

Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, thought academics might “find differences in the immersion facilitated by the device, in emotional responses” to the story. Her predictions were based on an earlier study comparing reading an upsetting short story on paper and on iPad. “In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,” said Mangen.

But instead, the performance was largely similar, except when it came to the timing of events in the story. “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”

Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds – Alison Flood, The Guardian (19 August 2014)

‘Course, I only read the full piece on my iPad so maybe it really says something completely different.

Read faster, if you must, but retain more

I don’t believe in speed-reading techniques but then I don’t have to: I naturally read at around 600 words per minute and I also type at around 120wpm. But my retention is poor: I am fantastic at scouring for information but if you ask me detailed questions about the whole text I’ve just taken in, I will be below average.

So that’s what makes me interested in advice that says you can read faster yet retain more by visiting Wikipedia first. Hold on. Wikipedia. O-kay. I’m listening, warily…

There is a relationship between background knowledge and reading comprehension. The more you understand about a particular subject, the more “hooks” keep the facts in there. So if you are going to read a book on a subject you don’t know much about, check out the Wikipedia article on it first to prep your brain to retain more.

How to Become a Faster Reader – Ryan Battles, (17 July 2014)

That’s the one bit that interests me in an article that (ironically) takes a long time to read. But if you want to read faster or you’re just curious to see if Ryan Battles is his real name, do take a look at the full article.