Friday, July 8, 2011

What if reading off screens is not all it's cracked up to be?

What if reading off screens is not all it's cracked up to be?

by The Angry Luddite

Imagine a news article datelined ''Boston, Massachusetts'' in the year
headlined ''MRI brain imaging lab at MIT studies differences in screen, paper
reading,'' that might begin like this:

"Dr Ellen Marker studies reading. But not off screens or in
paper books.
Her research is done in a Boston laboratory.

''The pioneering neuroscientist analyzes brains in their reading
states, hoping to understand the differences between reading
on screens and reading on paper surfaces.

"Marker has a hunch that her studies will later show that reading on paper
is superior to reading off screens in terms of three things:
processing of information, rentention of info in memory and analysis.

"But first, let's see what the scans will be like.

"Marker asks a reporter to put himself into an (f)MRI machine so her
team can study which areas of the brain are activated by reading text
on paper compared to reading the same text on a computer screen or a
Kindle e-reader.

''And this is why this reporter is here. Today this reporter will donate
his brain scans to science.

''Among the things that Marker has discovered so far is that reading on
paper might be
something we as a civilization should not ever give up.

''She says: 'Even though reading on screens is useful and convenient,
and I do it
all the time, I feel that
reading on paper is something we should never cede to the digital
revolution. We need both."

''The scientists load me into the MRI machine and I'm off.

''Next step: They strap my head down, because any movement distorts the
brain imaging. Ever try to read a book without facial movements?

''With the invention of the fMRI only 20 years ago, along came the
ability to look at brain activity. Marker says that by understanding a
function as gigantic as reading, how the reading brain does its magic
dance, a response that hijacks all of
one’s attention, she might also learn how reading on screens could be
inferior to reading on paper.

''Research and teaching take up most of Marker's time, but when she has a
spare moment, she thinks about what all this might mean for the future
of humankind.

''During my first hour in the fMRI machine, researchers map my brain's
reading paths
to find out which parts correlate to
which regions of the brain.

''One of the biggest conundrums turns out to be a nagging
question for all mankind: What if reading on screens is not good
for retention of data, emotional connections and critical thinking skills?''

Of course, the above story is a fantasy, an imagined newspaper article from
the future.

But what if it turns out that reading on screens is inferior to
reading on paper? What then?

But just as nobody heeded the calls that radiation and cancer might impact cell
phone use, will the profit-seeking makers of e-readers listen to people
like the imaginary Dr Marker above, or
even care if she is right?

I think she's tilting at windmills.


The Angry Luddite is not really angry. He is just bemused by our headlong rush to embrace
technology at times without bothering to see first if the coast (read: cost) is clear.

No Copyright 2011 so you have the right to copy this. GO GO GO!

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