Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Return of the Book

Michael Rosenwald in the Washington Post writes that various surveys all conclude that most of those who grew up with digital media prefer reading actual, physical books.  His piece begins:

Frank Schembari loves books — printed books. He loves how they smell. He loves scribbling in the margins, underlining interesting sentences, folding a page corner to mark his place.

 Schembari is not a retiree who sips tea at Politics and Prose or some other bookstore. He is 20, a junior at American University, and paging through a thick history of Israel between classes, he is evidence of a peculiar irony of the Internet age: Digital natives prefer reading in print. 

 “I like the feeling of it,” Schembari said, reading under natural light in a campus atrium, his smartphone next to him. “I like holding it. It’s not going off. It’s not making sounds.”

Among other nuggets in the article:

"Pew studies show the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers."

Textbook publishers trying to go completely ebook are meeting resistance from readers.  Students say they read a print book more carefully than on digital media.  Ironically, students are being pushed by their professors and universities to digital media, the article says, when they don't comprehend as much that way.  Much of the end of the piece is about the educational consequences of a huge official shift away from books, without regard to the differences in comprehension and experience.

Hyperlinks are often helpful but also can be distracting, many say.  But the comments that most interest me are about the need for the physicality of books--sometimes for memory aids, sometimes for all the senses of the real.  Book are both portable worlds and experiences that live in real world contexts--people remember where they were when reading, what the sights, sounds and smells were.  (Although, maybe not on the subway.)

Photos are by Reinier Gerritsen's series of people reading on the NY subway.

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