Hardcopied: A July Print-Reading Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt starts tomorrow! The Hardcopied challenge (see the Hardcopied Facebook page or the Hardcopied Book Club on Goodreads), in which a person decides to read only print books for the month of July, 2015. I’m doing it — are you?

A friend was ruminating recently about reading print books verses reading ebooks. There really doesn’t need to be the word “versus” in there, because both are of value. But we do read differently in each medium, and believe it or not, there are always likely to be print books in the foreseeable future. (That’s what head Harvard librarian, Robert Darnton, certainly believes, as I discuss in a review of his book.) So it’s probably a good idea to keep up our print reading skills as well as our ereading skills.

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that's another story...)

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that’s another story…)

One of the things that researchers have noticed–in general, so individual people may vary on this–is that when one’s primary reading is done onscreen, we tend much more to read in quick “jumps.” We flit from one thing to another, and our attention span does not seem to be as long. I’ve noticed this myself; I get a bit restless and start feeling an itch to go look at something else. With our screens, tablets, and smartphones, we can do this all too easily, and we never sit on one thing for all that long.

With print reading, we have to spend time. We are concentrating on one thing only, and we have to concentrate to stick with it. This makes us go deeper. It also gives us time to really think about what we’re reading. (And interestingly, some studies show that we retain things we’ve read in print form much more readily than things we’ve read onscreen. Hm.)

So I’m in! I’m going to read only print books in July. Want to join me?

    2 comments

    1. Tim Lukeman says:

      I only read print books — or “real books” as I still call them. 🙂

      You might want to read “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr, which delves into the differences between print vs. screen, using a fair amount of scientific study as well as philosophical argument. Robert Ulin’s “The Lost Art of Reading” also explores what is lost in that “quick jump” style of screen reading.

      Carr calls the reading of a print book “deep reading” — a different environment, a different mindset. According to the studies Carr examines, deep reading is not unlike language skills — if it isn’t learned early enough, when the plasticity of the brain allows maximum imprint & development, it may never be fully developed afterward. Apparently there’s a certain level of brain complexity that must be established at an early age; you can’t get it later on.

      Now, whether all the research is in, is another question, as Carr himself admits. But both Carr & Ulin begin their books by mentioning how much more difficult it’s become to read hard print at length after several years of onscreen life. The attention span shortens, the need for something clickably new & interesting at every moment becomes more pressing — accompanied by a measurable endorphin rush as a reward, too.

      Something to think about!

      • Phyl says:

        There’s something to be said, of course, for being able to carry 200 books with you on a four-hour flight somewhere (or an even longer flight), ha! And some things are only available as ebooks now (historical stuff, say, from Project Gutenberg). Plus, if you’ve just got a lot of stuff with you, it’s extremely handy to not have to carry a book too, but have a reader you can pull out at a convenient moment.

        But I’ve heard Nicholas Carr speak about this, though I don’t think I’ve read Ulin yet. I had also heard some of that information about attention span etc. just from the advent of Google.

        I suppose there was a change in brain and attention span with the introduction of print books themselves, too, way back when. Remember that before Gutenberg, it wasn’t common even to have those, and even afterward, for a long time, it still wasn’t possible for everyone to read. So the progression of civilization does change our brains and how we attend to things, and we’ve survived thus far. But I still think it’s a good idea to help people develop the capacity to sit still and really think.

        It does still happen — I mean, even those who are somewhat younger than us but who grew up surrounded by computers seem to be able to sit and think quite thoroughly about computer coding. So I wonder if it just changes what type of “deep thinking” we do. If someone “deep thinks” about stuff I don’t pay much heed to, is that, objectively, a “problem?”

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