Paper as a reading support has been used for thousands of years originating in China before 100 BC (Yin Liu). Along with the writing supports of stone, clay, wood, parchment, papyrus, the relatively new invention of screens and so forth, paper has and continues to be used in many people’s day to day lives. All the while, the advantages of paper are often overlooked. In this blog post I will be talking about the advantages paper has in comparison to the new and very popular invention today, screens.
To start off, let’s look at the concept of memory retention in paper compared to screens. Books provide physical cues to readers which aid in memory retention. Screens have not yet matched this physical aid. “Touching paper and turning pages aids the memory, making it easier to remember where you read something. Having to scroll on the computer screen makes remembering more difficult” (Myrberg and Wiberg 50). When flipping through the pages of a book it’s easier to tell where about you are in the book. In comparison, when scrolling through a text on a computer screen, there is no physical cue or marker indicating how far you through the text. In a study done on tenth-graders in Norway in 2013, students were divided into two groups where one group read two texts in print and the other group read the same texts as PDFs on a computer screen. The results of the study concluded that “the students who read on paper scored significantly better than those who read the texts digitally. It was easier for those who read on paper to remember what they had read” (50). Subconsciously, the turning of pages and the ability to actually place a physical marker into a book such as a book mark enables the reader to better see how far they are through the text. To expand, when reading a novel, a student may remember, “Oh yes I remember when Old Yeller was shot. It was in the last couple pages of the text”. Paper provides readers with sensory aspects that aid in memory retention.
Paper as better choice of material interface for reading than screens can also be supported with the use of annotations. Walsh states that “Whilst annotation functions on e-readers and PDF reading programs are improving, they do not yet match the functionality of their print counterparts . . . for lengthy, information rich documents students still preferred handwritten annotations in the margins of their printed page” (166). Paper documents give readers the power to make notes on and highlight the text however they desire. “Annotation is an integral part of academic reading and annotating electronic material is not as effective as highlighting and margin notes on paper copies . . . Students have learnt to study with a range of paper documents around them that they mark up as they research, and there still is not an easy way to replicate this behaviour in the electronic environment” (166). With greater advancements in technology this point may become ineffective with time, but as for now it is still easier for most readers to make annotations on their reading via paper.
Paper can also be argued as the preferred reading support for most readers because of the similar form e-books have taken. The possibilities of e-books are being limited when they are simply created to be used in the same way as a paper book! There are many benefits of e-books, such as being able to access many books without carrying a heavy load. However, “One big problem is that e-books are made to be read like a linear text, so the possibilities of the digital medium are not being utilized. The e-book just turns into a copy of the printed version, and why would anyone want to read a digital version if they are more comfortable reading a printed version?” (Wiberg and Myrberg, 52). The sole purpose of e-books as being an alternative medium for reading is not being used properly. E-books have a great potential to present texts in a different way than paper books, and should do so rather than copying the form of paper books.
Finally, paper is still to this day the preferred form of reading compared to screens because of its freedom from distraction. Electronic screens enable readers access to many different tabs at one time. Screens also often include pop-ups, hyperlinks, advertisements, and so forth which can distract a reader and make him or her less focussed. The majority of computer screens created are designed for multitasking. Users are able to open up various tabs at once, have multiple documents open, play audio while researching, etc. In comparison, when reading a text on paper, distractions are more limited. If the reader becomes distracted it is most likely the result of the reader’s own actions, rather than it being the result of an unwanted advertisement or pop-up showing up on the screen outside of the reader’s control.
Although the relatively new invention of computers and screens may be taking the world by storm, I still think it is fair to say that many readers remain “old fashioned” in their ways and prefer to read from paper. I find it relatively interesting how the reading support that has been around for centuries still remains one of the most useful and beneficial reading supports to this day! Paper – what a wonderful thing!
Liu, Yin. “Paper”. Lecture notes. Nov 29 2017.
Myrberg, C. & Wiberg, N. “Screen vs. paper: what is the difference for reading and learning?”. Insights. (2015). 49–54. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.236
Walsh, Gemma. “Screen and Paper Reading Research – A Literature Review”. Australian library & information Association. (2016). 47:3, 160-173.