Print vs. Digital, How Do You Read?

With e-books and online magazines gaining popularity, people are forgetting about the wonder of reading print.

There are very obvious ways that reading a printed work and reading a digital work vary. First, the physical. A book has substance; it is physically filled with words on pages that you can touch and turn with your hand. A digital work is read on some type of computer, phone or tablet. Many people argue that reading digitally is better because it is convenient. With technology, you can carry around 5, 10, 100 books at a time. It is easier to lay in bed and swipe than to turn pages. On the other hand, people argue print is better because it is tangible and engages your senses in a different way. You can literally hold all of the words in your hands. While I don’t know if one is “better” than the other, I believe there are several benefits and limitations to both which make them both valuable in their own way.

There is something truly special about being able to hold a book in your hand. In an age where everything is becoming increasingly less tangible the ability to hold something that is not technology in your hands is very rare. To me, the act of holding a book adds another level of connection and engagement to whatever you’re reading — be it a magazine, a book, or a print out for class. You can tell how many pages you’ve read. I believe it is extremely gratifying to get to the middle of the book and see the pages evenly folded over each cover. To feel the pages in your left hand get thicker and thicker as those in your right shrink. I believe that the only thing better than the smell of a new book is the smell of an old book, and there are few textures more gratifying than those of the pages of a book.

Furthermore, when you are reading print, you have the ability to physically write notes on it and highlight it. It is often said that hand writing aids in learning more than typing does — I personally find that I absorb information infinitely better when I hand write vs. when I type. The act of drawing a line over/ontop of something allows for a type of focus that isn’t necessarily possible by dragging your mouse over words on a screen.

In my experience, people (especially college students) have a tendency to multitask. Whether it be working on multiple assignments at once, getting distracted with new tabs, or watching netflix, it is very hard to concentrate on one thing while doing work on a computer. Sometimes things can take me 2x longer because I open up new tabs and check Facebook or other sites while I do my work. Generally, if I am reading something in print, I tend to get less distracted because you can’t click command-T on a book.

Additionally, there are many studies showing that there are negative health consequences to staring at screens for too long. The light from your computer is so harsh that it can actually damage your eyes (Digital Trends). The potential damage from digital reading is yet another reason that print reading is superior to digital reading.

While there are definitely limitations to reading digitally, there is one very important benefit — ease. As previously stated it is signifcantly easier to hold a phone or tablet than a book. Sometimes while reading you come across a word you don’t know or an unfamiliar concept. When you are reading on a computer, it is much easier to look things up; simply copy and paste in another tab, as opposed to manually typing in what you’re searching for (or god forbid looking in a dictionary). Furthermore, while holding a pen in your hand and physically writing in a book can be a great experience, there is no denying that it is much, much easier to take notes on the tab open on the screen next to your reading.

Photos by Ruby Siegel

If given the choice, I don’t know which medium I would pick. There truly are benefits and limitations to using either format. Doing my peer-review on Medium allowed me to easily scroll through an essay, look up what I didn’t know, and comment on the work all from the comfort of my bed — no pen and paper required. Though I did try to stop myself, while reading my partner’s essay, I really felt tempted to open a new tab to check in with the rest of the world on social media; not because I wasn’t interested in my partner’s essay. In fact, I was very interested in my partner’s essay, but because Facebook was there, sitting in the next tab waiting to be opened.

While less convenient at times, I still feel that I become more immersed in what ever print work I am reading, for maybe no other reason than I can hold it in my hands. When I am reading a book or a print out I can close my computer and most temptations go away - I do not find myself getting as distracted.

All things considered, while I do think it is easier (and more eco friendly) to read digitally, there is something special about reading the printed page that allows for better connection with the material. While it is becoming increasingly more convenient to do all reading online, and the likelihood of books becoming obsolete looms large, I find myself still enjoying the company of a good book.