Charleston’s digital age of reading webinar

If you missed out on the valuable information presented during Charleston’s Digital Age of Reading webinar in March 2018, you are in luck!  Taylor & Francis attended the webinar and we are pleased to provide you a summary of the session, highlighting the most important arguments, questions and answers.

The Argument

The webinar was essentially a discussion of the ongoing argument between digital skeptics and digital enthusiasts.  The digital skeptics argue that digital screen reading is simply not the same as reading off a printed page—the brain responds differently to each.  The linear reading utilized with print is a fixed, solitary activity that allows you to absorb, reflect, and incorporate key points of knowledge and information through your working memory.  Digital skeptics maintain that linear reading is not going away.  Studies show that younger readers age 18-20 are turning back to print because of the digital fatigue caused from looking at their digital devices all day.  Digital skeptics maintain that if we become too reliant on screen reading, we will lose the ability to turn information into knowledge and to reflect on information in a deeper way.  By preserving print, we are preserving a way to maintain the cultural deep immersion of reading, despite how we are moving towards a very different future.

Digital enthusiasts heavily support e-reading and are adamant that we don’t need a place for print in the future.  They maintain that the format is unimportant because the text is interchangeable.  The tabular reading utilized on digital screens is non-linear, fostering rapid decision making and filtering as a basis to proceed further.  To digital skeptics, however, such tabular reading fosters impatience, immediate gratification, desire to be stimulated, distractions, multi-tasking, and a tendency to absorb the information in small bits instead of a greater whole.

The Verdict

Commitment to literacy and learning is a core value of every library.  There is an ongoing need for hybrid collections to maintain a balance between digital and print, as they are both essential to the way we learn, communicate, and interpret and convert information into knowledge.  They are complimentary of one another, so a balanced approach is required of every library to meet the needs of readers of all types.  Each library should decide based on learning styles and disciplines which materials to hold electronically and in print.

Questions and Answers

Q:  What do you think caused the flip-flop or digital fatigue that brought people back to print books?

A:  It is evidence of the fact that, for now, the digital skeptics have the better case; it is more difficult for people to read at length in the digital age environment. People want to read, but they find it more difficult to do off many digital devices; the digital information environment doesn’t facilitate reading in the way that print reading does. People spend so much time on their devices, so they naturally don’t retain the information as much because they are so used to them. Their attention is scattered; always getting alerts, messages, etc. For the sake of their own sanity, people need a break from all of that to relax, absorb and think in depth. Digital devices have a huge impact on memory, so your ability to retain what you’ve read is much more difficult on digital devices. People are reading more on the internet, but they are not necessarily retaining it.

Q:  A growing area in publishing is audio books: is listening to an audio book considered reading?

A:  Yes, in the sense that you are absorbing information that is being made part of your mental range of knowledge—if they are absorbing information, remember it, and use it going forward, then this is another way to complement traditional reading.

Q:  What kind of impact does highlighting while you’re reading have when you’re reading digital or print?

A:  Learning style varies so highlighting can help you. Again, there is a simplicity to highlighting in print. Depending on the person, their individual style or the situation, this may help facilitate the reading experience.

Q:  The research results of the digital skeptics feels right, but it also seems like it could be influenced by bias. Are other researchers trying to expand upon this?

A:  The debate is still ongoing, but the argument has been made that a lot of the difficulty people have with e-reading is that people are used to print. Print has been around for centuries. It is straightforward, easy to use, so maybe there is a reason people have this bias. The population you’re studying, the setting, etc. are all very important factors that come into play—these are built-in preferences of our culture, so they make a difference.

Q:  Given the simplicity of checking out a print book at a library vs. the complexities we put in the way of people reading e-books (log-ins, etc.) could people be recognizing that the simplicity of the print book is an advantage?

A:  Yes, because print is really the only form that works in context with many different styles of readers.