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Why Print Prevails Even Among Those Weaned On Screens

Natives of the digital age more often than not turn the page, rather than swipe the screen,

image via (cc) flickr user pamhule

You’re reading this on a screen. When you’re done reading this, odds are you’ll read something else on a screen. You’ll probably continue, in one way or another, to read things on screens for the rest of your day. But within the inescapably digital panopticon of our daily lives, those belonging to the generation most likely to feel at ease staring at screens are exhibiting a preference for print, instead.

In “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.The Washington Post’s Michael Rosenwald examines the irony of print reading’s popularity among people for whom screens has been the norm since they were born. Rosenwald cites a Pew study that shows “the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29.” (The study, while not linked in Rosenwald’s piece, appears to be this one from 2013) So why, if digital natives comprise the largest segment of print readership, are those expected to be most comfortable consuming media via screens opting instead for the page?

As Rosenwald discovers, the answer is, in part, obvious: Reading digitally is distracting (duh, how many pop-ups have you X’d out of today?). Print reading, on the other hand, offers fewer disruptions, allowing for more focus, which results in higher retention–something, for example, of value to those digital natives currently in college. What’s more, Rosenwald points to research showing that print reading allows the brain to better comprehend information, based on its fixed point within a page. In other words: When you study for a test, or simply want to remember the novel you’re reading, certain facts or plot points become a little stickier in the brain when you know they can–and will always–be found three lines from the top of page 651.

image via (cc) flickr user azadam

Which isn’t to say that e-reading doesn’t have its adherents among the digitally native. In particular, Rosenwald highlights digital reading as being particularly beneficial for academic settings in which quick keyword searches are necessary. Similarly, digital is useful for math and science learning, as digital texts may provide access to more dynamic problem-solving help.

Perhaps, then, it’s a question of better understanding just when and where digital reading can be effective. For example: Did you skim this piece, or did you go through it word for word. It’s okay if you skimmed (just about everyone does online) but consider printing out Rosenwald’s full essay on actual, hold-in-your-hand paper; It’s well worth a read.

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