The Myths of Using Screen Interfaces

Tanner Bayne

In my January 2017 article “Screen Saver: A Defense of Reading on Screen Supports,” I attempt to dispel some of the illusions surrounding screen support reading, specifically those illusions that attest that reading on screens is empirically “worse” than reading on paper. I facilitate this contestation because of the fact that many of the same arguments against screen reading can be used against paper as well.

Image: Darius Sankowski, Pixabay. Public domain.

The argument that I make in this article is derived from the idea that the concept of “the reading process” is quite abstract. So, a concise definition is needed in order to have a substantial conversation about screen and paper reading supports. The definition that I use is taken from language psychologists Sarah Margolin et al, in their article “E-readers, Computer Screens, or Paper: Does Reading Comprehension Change across Media Platforms?” The article explains that reading is an ever-progressing process where readers engage with the textual meanings of words as well as the word’s implications (Margolin et al. paragraph two).

As stated earlier, my article also devotes time to consider how many of the arguments against screen interfaces can also be used against paper ones. One of the more prevalent arguments against screen supports is the idea that they are dangerous to readers. This claim is evidently not unique to screens, as fatigue, eye strain, and headaches can affect readers of paper interfaces as well. In 2012 and 2014, Caroline Myrberg and Ninna Wiberg conducted two studies where they had a set of students read on screens, a group read on paper, and another group that was able to choose between the interfaces, and found that the only potential health risk unique to screen supports is that they can disturb sleeping patterns due to the blue light they emit (Myrberg and Wiberg paragraph five).

The primary argument that I deconstruct in my essay is the one that claims that reading comprehension is reduced when reading on screen interfaces. The answer to this argument, however, is more nuanced than the previous one, as there are plenty of factors at play in the reading process that may impact comprehension. In the late 1980’s Margolin’s team conducted experiments to determine how the reading process was impacted by screens, and found that there was no discernable difference in reading comprehension, although people tended to read faster on paper (Margolin et al. paragraph six). Additionally, in the previously mentioned test by Myrberg and Wiberg they found that those who scored poorly for reading comprehension in the earlier study actually improved in the latter study (Myrberg and Wiberg, paragraph 15). This is significant as it reveals that reading comprehension is contingent on how familiar one is with their interface, and that the process is always improving.

Ultimately, my article “Screen Saver: A Defense of Reading on Screen Supports” serves as a way to clear some of the misinformation surrounding screen interfaces. In breaking down the myths that surround screen interfaces it is possible to understand that screen reading is just as meaningful as reading on paper interfaces. Furthermore, by continuing to tackle the many unfounded opinions against screen supports, there is the possibility that reading on screens just may become as popular as reading on paper.

Works Cited:

Margolin, S.J., Driscoll, C., Toland, M.J. and Kegler, J.L. “E-readers, Computer Screens, or Paper: Does Reading Comprehension Change Across Media Platforms?” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 27, Issue 4, 2013. Web.

Myrberg, Caroline, and Wiberg, Ninna. “Screen Vs. Paper: What is the Difference For Reading and Learning?UKSG Insights. 2015. Web.

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