During this post I will look at material that is relevant to the last of my three sections for the main content of my work. This post shall focus on the following:

The change from a physical to a digital medium.

  • The change in format, from typically written work to multimedia.
  • The physical vs virtual security of content (a book is constant, a web page can become unavailable and is forever gone).
  • The implications of developing our knowledge and collective intelligence and how effectively we are achieving this.
  • The effects of having immediate access to a huge wealth of information.


In their paper, ‘Is Google Making Us stupid?’ The Impact of the Internet on Reading Behaviour’ Val Hooper and Channa Herath offer a very good insight into the impact the Internet has on our reading behaviour. They take into account the difference between online and offline reading which is a very intriguing concept when the two are compared. Rightfully so, they acknowledge the Internet’s advantages and give praise to many factors that are related in this discussion. However they do argue that there is a presence of disadvantages with the Internet having a negative impact on memory, lack of concentration and a lack of comprehension.

The article presented a lot of original findings that questioned a lot about the comparison at question. They found that the motive for online reading was primarily for work and to seek information – at a matter of convenience. Furthermore, immediacy was an influential factor which offline material could not match. Hooper and Herath also contend that a common pattern occurred that highlighted individuals desire to simply ‘browse’ as opposed to get involved with the content. They concluded that there are definitive differences between reading on and offline, most notably the results show online reading has a negative impact on an individual’s cognition. Concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates all showed to be lower when reading online.

This article is very helpful in my study and has presented me with very insightful research that is original and that states a lot about the influence and effect of information received via online amenities and is presented with a strong, well developed and supported argument. Furthermore, their direct comparison with on and offline reading really developed my study and the exact effects that Hooper and Herath have identified here are very helpful and unique.

Figure 1. Article from the Scientific American

Figure 1. Article from the Scientific American

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

A recently published article in the Scientific American entitled, ‘The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens’ by Ferris Jabr (link above) gives a thorough and well supported insight into the research that suggests reading on paper has numerous advantages over tablets and e readers despite their increasing popularity. Jabr makes a lot of excellent points and they support very well the arguments that Hooper and Herath make (above).

Firstly I would like to bring attention to Jabr’s attempt to acknowledge who his article is aimed at; to which he states that it is not just relevant to the digital natives amongst us but anyone who reads. I think he subtly identifies how prominent his discussion is by declaring that this debate involves the activity of all of us. This is certainly something I want to achieve in my outcomes as I think it is a strong method to establish why my work is important.

Moving on, Jabr explains that in the last 30 years, research has concluded that people read slower, with lower accuracy and comprehension on screen than paper based mediums. He also states that it is common opinion that individuals prefer paper when reading intensively. I can see why this activity would generate common agreement; paper suffices for singular, chronological reading and as he goes on to say later, many people miss the physical properties and experiences of reading a hard cover book. However I think it should be made aware that screen based reading offers greater affordances when reading and its opportunities allow for a seamless and fluid navigation through various sources as opposed to just one or a few like the paper offers and this is a hugely important factor.

Jabr goes onto state that despite e-books currently making up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales, evidence indicates that screen based reading fails to recreate certain experiences of reading on paper that many people miss. I think this is quite misguided though in the sense that e readers and screen based reading doesn’t need to re-create the physicality’s of a book and the pleasure it creates. This is a new medium that offers different advantages – most notably convenience, cost reduction and accessibility. Therefore I think to some degree it is pointless to make these judgements based off of nostalgia. Yes, books offer a differing experience but no one is taking away that opportunity, it is merely enhanced by the choice of a new medium. Whilst it is important to compare reading performance, judging experience I think is quite cynical when it is most commonly the book which gains favour.

“Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done.” (Jabr 2013) states Jabr. Furthermore he states that many people approach computers and tablets with less emphasis on learning in comparison to paper. I think these are very important and valid points when comparing both mediums and with the last one I think it is very easy to appreciate this fact given the broad range of entertaining facilities provided by computers and tablets. In reference to the quote, he discusses the physical and mental impact that screens have, labelling them demanding. He state that paper reflects ambient light whereas screens shine bright light into the readers eyes and this can cause strain, headaches and loss of concentration. He goes onto to provide numerous accounts of research to support this notion and this really gives his work a level of authority.

This article is very specific and in depth whilst providing a lot of authoritative research to back up arguments. More so it is extremely relevant to my study, particularly when looking at the implications or physical vs virtual reading and learning. Also, I have now come across a lot of new material from links in this article that give me some ground for research in this area when I begin my project.

In terms of looking at the effects of having immediate access to a huge wealth of information it can be very helpful to look at Betsy Sparrow et.al’s paper, Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips.

Sparrow et.al provide a very insightful look at the consequences of having information at our fingertips in an age of online immediacy. They argue that no longer do we have to make conscious effort to find out what we want. We do not need to remember information or make a huge effort for a multitude of tasks now we can easily experience a strong sense of agency using online tools. They claim that the Internet has become a primary form of external memory that is outside of ourselves and that we simply call upon this medium to get what it is we require. Sparrow et.al argue that the notion of online access has become an external system of memory fuelled by an urge to acquire information with immediate effect. Like Hooper and Herath (above) would agree, we are a species whose internal coding has developed the ability to find out how to get information merely to find answers, not for the purpose of the content and I think this can be a severe problem in many cases. The ability to instantly recall the precise information we need dramatically reduces our need to ‘work’ for the information we require.

This article provides significant interest towards my study as Sparrow et.al explore ideas that develop on from Vannevar Bush’s idea of the ‘memex’. He argued that by having the ability to store, track and recall information we could dramatically improve and develop our current knowledge and understanding which would allow us to progress with great efficiency. However Sparrow et.al argues in some respect that in actual fact, the ability to recall this information results in us developing behaviour which has a negative impact on our cognitive ability. In light of this, it is extremely helpful to have an idea that opposes with another source as it allows me to significantly develop my own understanding.


Figure 1. ‘The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens’. Image available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/ [Accessed on 09/04/15]

Hooper, V., Herath, C. (2014) ‘Is Google Making Us stupid? The Impact of the Internet on Reading Behaviour’. [online]. Bled eConference, eEcosystem. Available at: https://domino.fov.uni-mb.si/proceedings.nsf/0/245b68041b843574c1257cee003df66a/$FILE/04_Hooper_Herath.pdf [Accessed on 09/04/15]

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., Wegner, D M. (2011) Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Safer Communications. [online] July. Sciencexpress, Sciencemag. Available at: http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/science.1207745.full.pdf [Accessed on 09/04/15]

Jabr, F. (2013) ‘The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens’. Scientific American. April [online] Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/ [Accessed on 09/04/15]