May 28, 2015

Uhhh.... I Forgot

My daughter called me on her way to work this morning to tell me about a story she'd heard on NPR. It had to do with a study recently conducted on the difference between reading a book on a mobile device (specifically a Kindle) versus reading a print book.

According to the study, some readers retained less information when reading on the Kindle than other readers did when reading a print copy of the same story. Researchers indicated that the tactile experience (feeling the stack of pages growing smaller on one side of the book and larger on the other) might contribute to the ability to better retain information when reading a print book.

Now, I didn't hear the NPR story myself, and I don't know my way around the NPR website well enough to figure out if there's a podcast of the story available to those of us who missed it, but a Google search did turn up this article that I read and found interesting.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I'm really a print book fan. I love the feel of books and love the way they look on a shelf. In my opinion, a home without bookshelves is ... well missing something important.

But I'm also quite fond of my Kindle. When it comes to moving 3,000 books from one location to another, for example, the e-reader beats the print book hands down. I also like the fact that on my Kindle I can adjust the font to suit my mood and level of eye strain. On the other hand, I prefer the feel of a real book in my hands and nothing can beat the smell of a library or book store (unless the smell is ruined by stale coffee).

But even though I appreciate my Kindle, I sincerely hope that print books never completely disappear from our human experience. But even though this study would seem to support my love of the print book, I did have some doubts about the veracity of the study I read about.

My biggest doubt arises because there's no indication in the article that all the human readers involved were equal. That makes me wonder whether the results are really proof that retention is skewed by reading an ebook or if retention is skewed by having a memory like a sieve.

No matter what device someone handed me, I would find myself challenged if asked to recall certain events from most stories/books I've read unless I was pre-warned that I would be tested later. So without warning that would make me pay more attention than I might otherwise, I would probably test poorly on recall of plot points and character names.

I know people who can talk about a novel they read years ago and mention the characters by name. I'm not one of those people. Unless the book is off-the-charts amazing, I'm not likely to remember character names ten minutes after I put the book down (and sometimes not even then.) It wouldn't matter which type of book the researchers handed me, I would bring my faulty memory with me. Someone would be wrong to assume that my inability to remember the order of story events was the fault of the device I used to read the book.

And even if everyone who participated in the study had brilliant memories, some stories resonate with certain readers and not with others. I'm much more likely to recall details from a story that touches me on some deeply personal level than I am from one that I don't personally connect with. There again, the medium I use to read the story matters much less than my likes and dislikes, my personality, and my past experiences.

I guess what it boils down to is that even though I still prefer a print book, I'm not ready to point an accusing finger at the much-maligned e-reader on the basis of the study I read about. What about you?

photo credit: DSC02792 via photopin (license)

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