Face it: Electronic devices are not only alluring, they can be quite addictive, too, and e-readers are no exception. Their debut actually set off a collective bookseller panic attack a few years back that goes unabated to this day. Indeed, since then, Barnes & Noble has had to shutter fifteen to twenty of its stores across the country each year, including its last one in Washington, D.C. in December. And, reportedly, the whittling will go on until only 450 remain by 2022.
Then there’s the fact that, back in 2011, Borders was forced to declare bankruptcy, disappearing from the scene altogether–and much the shame. As CNN’s Todd Leopold said at the time, “It is a place with a soul.” Now, of course, the operative word is was.
About such trends, Jim Taylor, Ph.D., author of Raising Generation Tech, says “We are not going to stop this train, and apparently not, given that “screened-in” books have so much going for them. For instance:
• Their animation and audio can help a youngster identify printed words, thus increasing vocabulary exponentially.
• They’re more interactive, with add-ons that can target unfamiliar words and offer links to connect the vocabulary to the real world.
• Words light up when sounded—a reward of sorts.
• The title remains private, especially important for struggling readers.
• They are particularly helpful for children with developmental delays.
• They’re light-weight and portable; especially beneficial when traveling.
• Books can be purchased easily and from anywhere.
• They save space—no need for bookshelves.
• There are no library books to return.
• Parental presence not required.
And that’s all well and good, and yet…
For starters, experts continue to recommend reading print books with the very young, and older kids love being read to from them, too. Face it: No gadget can replace a parent, a paper book in hand, reading, answering and asking questions, defining unfamiliar words, sharing triggered memories—all of it up close and personal.
Moreover, researchers at West Chester University have found that, “…the very ‘richness’ of the multimedia environment that e-books provide—heralded as their advantage over printed books—may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply.” Their conclusion: “E-books can, at worst, result in far lower reading comprehension as kids skip whole pages in search of noise-making character illustrations, interactive passages, and other distractions.”
Bottom line: Don’t be too quick to give up the reins to tech. After all, print books have other advantages over e-readers, too. As Ferri Jabr reminds us, “In most cases, paper books have a more obvious topography than on-screen text. An open paper book presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text.”
Never thought of that, right? What’s more, not only don’t print books need recharging or come with a sleep-interfering backlight, they’re collectible, shareable, easily savored over and over again, and…
• Nothing beats a trip to a bookstore or library, scanning book after book until finding the perfect one. Favorites are usually self-chosen.
• Readers benefit from simply holding a book with both hands, turning its pages, flipping back and forth, and dog-earing their place—a true sensory experience.
• A book’s physicality slows things down, allowing for deeper reading—no distracting bells and whistles, no temptation to multi-task.
• You know how much you’ve read and how much remains; you always know where you are in the book.
• It’s easy to flip back to prior pages to double-check details, who’s who, etc.
• Highlighting and making notations in the margins—and finding them later—are never a problem.
• Reading skills are enhanced as a reader, first on their own, uses context, context clues, and structural analysis to help uncover a word’s meaning.
And here’s yet one more thing paper has over a screen: No Computer Vision Syndrome, aka Digital Eye Strain. That, says the American Optometric Association, refers to “a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use.” The result” eyestrain, vision problems, and/or headaches that worsen with extended screen time.
In other words, don’t discount print books—or the brick-and-mortar stores that sell them—just yet. Kids certainly haven’t, according to a recent Scholastic survey, which found that:
• “While the percentage of children who have read an e-book has increased across all age groups since 2010 (25% vs. 61%), 77% who have read an e-book say most of the books they read are in print.”
• Nearly two-thirds of children (65%)—up from 2012 (60%)—agree that they’ll always want to read books in print even though there are e-books available.”
Couple that with the findings of a study led by American University’s Naomi Baron that 92% of students still prefer to do their “serious reading” on physical not virtual books.” In other words, paper books are still well in hand.
As one student put it, “I have a sense of accomplishment when I finish a book, and I want to see it on the shelf.”
So, while tech folks keep trying to replicate the print reading experience on electronic devices–a quite impossible task–Mr. Jabr wonders, “…Why, one could ask, are we working so hard to make reading with new technologies like tablets and e-readers so similar to the experience of reading on the very ancient technology that is paper?”
Good question, right?