Over on Wired is a smart piece by Brandon Keim on why we like reading paper after all. (I found it in the aggregator.)
My pattern these days is to peruse the tablet for morning newspaper time, which is now also magazine and aggregator time, and paper for bedtime reading. (I am reading Zite, which is called “the aggregator” in our house. For complicated reasons, I don’t much read in Flipboard, however pretty it is. Maybe I’ll write about that. I hope I like the new Zitified Flipboard when the day comes.)
But I still want paper whenever I want to dig in. Keim describes text on screen as “slippery” and more difficult to retain, and I can confirm this. He also cites research. (It’s always reassuring when Science corroborates what we knew anyway: this is science we know we don’t have to discount.) Or, I would qualify, it’s not so much that paper makes for better retention. It is just makes for a safer space, allowing the mind to quiet enough to hear the quieter tones and inflections and feel the texture of the text. (In turn, I suppose these may be conducive to better retention.) A book is going to be what it is, while text on a screen, even on a tablet, is always offering, unsettlingly, to transmogrify into something else — if nothing else, then into another text. I suppose this “mind-quieting” theory also helps account for why this is so subjective. It’s related to the distractability factor but not limited to it. The researchers cited by Keim remind us of how much information we are getting from the codex format, implicitly and passively, and this is important too: physical, tangible pages have a kind of grounding effect.
The same thing goes for a printed PDF of a research paper or scholarly article. One can better see it for what it is, and isn’t, when it is given space and material (paper!) of its own, even if it’s just a stapled set of 8½x11s.
This all bears on what I was thinking about in relation to Renear’s Strategic Reading. As long as my primary purpose with a text is to assess it and assimilate it, the screen is fine. But to give the text a chance to write me (inscribe on me, change me) — requiring a receptive mind as well as an active one — then having it printed on paper first is a good first step. Paper is just a better instrument for that.