When I bought my iPad a few years ago, I was looking forward to accessing a library of books without lugging around the weight. And reading the newspaper online would keep the newsprint from dirtying my hands. Now that I’ve had the iPad for three years, though, I see that my expectations were not realistic. Yes, I can access books and newspapers on my iPad. But actually reading them is another matter.
A study conducted by Arthur D. Santana, a professor of communication at the Univ. of Houston, found that people who read print news publications read more news — and remember more news — than those who read it online. One group of news-savvy students read the print edition of The New York Times, while another group read the same day’s online version. After 20 minutes of reading, participants were asked to note the headlines, general topics, and main points of as many stories as they could remember. Print readers remembered an average of 4.24 news stories, while online readers recalled an average of 3.35 stories.
Santana offers several possible reasons for the difference in recall. He says online readers may scan stories, whereas print readers might be more methodical. Since online news can appear and disappear with a click, viewers may regard it as not worth remembering. The knowledge that the information is electronically archived and thus retrievable may make readers feel there is no need to store it in their memory. And, the design of each medium may play a role — a story’s layout and placement on the printed page provide clues about its importance.
Anne Mangen, a professor in the Univ. of Stavanger’s Reading Centre (Norway), reports similar findings. In one study, tenth-graders read two types of text, narrative fiction and expository nonfiction; half read on paper, while the others read PDF files on a computer screen. The students who read on paper performed significantly better on tests of reading comprehension than those who read on-screen. In other research, graduate students read a short mystery story; half of them read a pocket-size book, and the others used a Kindle. When asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct order, those who read on paper were almost twice as accurate as those who read on-screen (although the groups performed similarly on tests about the setting, the characters, and other plot details).
Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker that e-readers and computers tend to “exhaust our resources more quickly than the printed page. We become tired from the constant need to filter out hyperlinks and possible distractions. And our eyes themselves may grow fatigued from the constantly shifting screens, layouts, colors, and contrasts.” Factors such as line length, font, text size, and color make the reading experience easier or more difficult. She points out that while these variables exist on paper, “the range of formats and layouts online is far greater than it is in print. Online, you can find yourself transitioning to entirely new layouts from moment to moment, and, each time you do so, your eyes and your reading approach need to adjust. Each adjustment, in turn, takes mental and physical energy.”
What does all of this mean for CEP? I think we offer the best of all worlds. You get the print copy delivered to you every month. As a member of AIChE, you can log in to www.aiche.org and download a PDF version of any article published since 2001; then either print it and read it on paper, or read the PDF on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
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