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“There is a physicality in reading.”

Here is a mash-up of recent piece in Scientific American on the differences between reading screens and paper alongside quotes from my book. The similarities are striking and of course rewarding. I just wish it would get cited a little more.

“We often think of reading as a cerebral activity concerned with the abstract—with thoughts and ideas, tone and themes, metaphors and motifs. As far as our brains are concerned, however, text is a tangible part of the physical world we inhabit.” – Scientific American

“Reading is not only a matter of our brains. It is an integral part of our lived experience, our sense of being in the world, even if at times this can mean feeling intensely apart from the world.” – Book Was There

“Surveys and consumer reports also suggest that the sensory experiences typically associated with reading—especially tactile experiences—matter to people more than one might assume.” – Scientific American

“To think about the future of reading means, first and foremost, to think about the relationship between reading and hands, the long history of how touch has shaped reading and, by extension, our sense of ourselves while we read.” – Book Was There

“In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself.” – Scientific American

“There is a doubleness to the book that is central to its meaning as an object. With the pages facing each other as they face us, the open book stands before us as a mirror.” – Book Was There

“Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.” – Scientific American

“Open books can be measured by the sliding scale of pages past and future, like steps, just off to the side of the page. What lies after the digital page? An abyss. No matter what the page number says, we have no way to corroborate this evidence with our senses, no idea where we are while we read. The digital page isn’t a window, it’s a door (but like Bluebeard’s castle: to where?). Perhaps Piranesi, with all of those stairwells that lead nowhere, should be considered the father of the digital page.” – Book Was There

“The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized.” – Abigail Sellen of Microsoft Research

“Because of their easy navigability, paper books and documents may be better suited to absorption in a text.” – Scientific American

“Skimming is the new normal. With my e-book, I no longer pause over the slight caress of the almost turned page—a rapture of anticipation—I just whisk away. Our hands become brooms, sweeping away the alphabetic dust before us.” – Book Was There

“Whereas a paper book is made from pages of printed letters fixed in a particular arrangement, the text that appears on a screen is not part of the device’s hardware—it is an ephemeral image.” – Scientific American

“Digital texts are somewhere, but where they are has become increasingly complicated, abstract, even forbidden. If the book is a thing you can put things into, the electronic book keeps things out.” – Book Was There

“Other researchers have suggested that people comprehend less when they read on a screen because screen-based reading is more physically and mentally taxing than reading on paper.” – Scientific American

“As I begin to read, the kids begin to lean into me. Our bodies assume positions of rest, the book our shared column of support. No matter what advertisers say, this could never be true of the acrobatic screen. As we gradually sink into the floor, and each other, our minds are freed to follow their own pathways, unlike the prescribed pathways of the web. We read and we drift.” – Book Was There

“People who took the test on a computer scored lower and reported higher levels of stress and tiredness than people who completed it on paper.” – Scientific American

“Reading on screens has a profound sense of place, even as place is increasingly defined by a bifurcated sense of being both here and there. Our reading is being stretched.” – Book Was There

“Subconsciously, many people may think of reading on a computer or tablet as a less serious affair than reading on paper.” – Scientific American

“We have entered into an exponential relationship to the growth of reading material. Like many parents or educators, I worry that the growing expanse of reading pulls us apart, not just socially, but also personally. When there is so much more to read and when we are always reading for some purpose, we are only ever “catching up.” We never have the chance to incorporate, digest, curl up, close off, recede.” – Book Was There

“In current research for Microsoft, Sellen has learned that many people do not feel much ownership of e-books because of their impermanence and intangibility: “They think of using an e-book, not owning an e-book,” she says.” – Scientific American

“When I pass down my books to my children, I imagine I will be sharing with them a sense of time. Books are meaningful because as material objects they bear time within themselves. They convey a sense of time passing. Digital files, on the other hand, do not register time in quite this way. In order for them to remain legible to both machines and humans, they must be continually translated into new formats (“migrated” in technical terms). Files overwrite time.” – Book Was There

“But why, one could ask, are we working so hard to make reading with new technologies like tablets and e-readers so similar to the experience of reading on the very ancient technology that is paper? Why not keep paper and evolve screen-based reading into something else entirely?” – Scientific American

This is the point I concluded with in Book Was There and have since written about: e-books are in the way.

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