Friday, August 20, 2010

Danny Bloom and the perils of "screening" vs reading on paper surfaces

hat tip to Todd I. Stark in the known blogosphere:

Inspired by Nicholas Carr's book "The Shallows," and more especially by the varied reactions to Nicholas Carr's ideas, I previously posted 3 articles on the subject of how electronic media are affecting our thinking and reading. I'm no expert on this subject, except that I read a lot both online and offline. The posts were a review of Carr, some thoughts on our shifting perception of knowledge and expertise, and some reflection on the concept of deep reading.

Since those posts, a blogger named Danny Bloom wrote to me and asked if I could blog about his ideas on reading on paper vs reading on screens. He seemed very eager and excited about his hunches. Now, I have a readership of about a dozen very smart and curious friends on a very good day, and I don't know Mr Bloom at all, never met him before or heard of him. Still, he was very insistent that I mention his "ideas". So here it is. Danny, who is from Boston and is now a freelance reporter and English teacher in Taiwan, been in Asia since 1991, graduated from Tufts in 1971, never had a real career anywhere as far as I can tell, has been contacting all sorts of people and urging them to write about the issue of reading on paper vs. reading on electronic screens (he coined the term "screening" to mean reading on a screen). He feels that doing brain scans of people while they are reading will turn up important differences between paper reading and screening. Just a hunch, he admits. And he admits he might be wrong, too.

Danny has been lobbying me -- some might call it pestering me a bit too often! -- to one day blog about this and sending me a lot of the variations of the same thing over and over again by email and FB notges saying that screens are different from paper. Okay, here's my POV, Danny: I think it's true, and I prefer paper for various reasons for serious reading, but I'm not sure that this is all discernable readily at the neural level. I think much is cognitive and psychological. And it is hard to tell how much is habit and preference and how much is intrinsic difference in how we are forced to process different kinds of stimuli and use our attention differently. I expect it's a little of each.

I consider this an interesting question but I'm not nearly as excited about it as Danny is, and my concerns are more general than just the nature of screens vs. paper. Especially since the resolution and shading of of screens has drastically improved and will continue to do so.

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