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Friday, October 16, 2009

Does the Brain Like E-books?

Click the title of this entry to go to the fascinating compilation of short essays in the New York Times.

The question: is reading an electronic text (or video book, called "vook") qualitatively different from reading ink on paper? My two favorite quotes:

"I have no doubt that the digital immersion of our children will provide a rich life of entertainment and information and knowledge. My concern is that they will not learn, with their passive immersion, the joy and the effort of the third life, of thinking one’s own thoughts and going beyond what is given. Let us bring our best thought and research to preserving what is most precious about the present reading brain as we add the new capacities of its next iteration." Maryanne Wolf, author of "Proust and the Squid."

"Reading online is thus not just about reading text in isolation. When you read news, or blogs or fiction, you are reading one document in a networked maze of an unfathomable amount of information. My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly." - Gloria Mark

These are not Luddites, but thoughtful researchers revealing what we do now (decode, then go beyond), and trying to track the continuing evolution of the brain as it wraps itself around new technology.

2 comments:

6p011570a9a65c970c said...

The second quote is very much true... I observe it on myself. I can get lost in a book and read it until the small hours of night/morning. I can get lost on the internet in a similar way, but never reading one and the same thing, I need to keep switching between them.
And I also feel learning is much easier from paper.
Besides (mind, I haven't read the essays yet, so I don't know what they're arguing) there's nothing like the simple pleasure of turning the pages and later remembering that this was on the bottom of the left hand page and that in the middle of the right-hand page...

Polyreader said...

I find it interesting that these two quotes could be put in dialogue.
I instinctively agree with the second one, but I'm a little perplexed by the first for that very reason. Electronic media and their "social" and "interactive" functions are so active! Ebooks' access to the dictionary is so much easier than I find myself using it more often and more liberally; I also find that I take more notes, as they can be inserted within the text easily, and without "defacing" the book/ annoying the next reader.
And if we extend the discussion to electronic texts such as blog post, surely they actively engage their reader (perhaps even too much, putting us straight into that reaction/ commenting mindframe, before we've pondered everything there was to think about).
I'm all for best thought and research, though!