A lot of attention has been given to the issue of screen time for youth and adolescents, but what about adults? Are there health risks associated with using electronic devices? If so, do those risks vary from one generation to the next?
This topic has sparked several studies over the years, yet many questions remain…
- Screen vs. paper: What are the pros and cons?
- What do studies show about reading from screen vs. paper in terms of reading retention and recall?
- How much screen time is too much for adults?
Reading in and of itself has plenty of benefits for our minds. Consistent reading prevents mental decline and encourages a sense of empathy and understanding for the reader.
Let’s take an in-depth look at why there is still much to be gained by having a physical copy when reading.
Pros and Cons of Reading from Print
Pros to Print
1) The experience of reading and shopping for the book engages more of your senses and fires up more areas of your brain. A bookstore creates an opportunity for face-to-face interaction. On the opposition, shopping online can be isolating.
2) When you do lose your place in a print book, it’s far easier to find it again than it is in a digital book.
3) The tactile sensation of a book in your hand gives you a lot more feedback than you think. The thickness of the pages you’ve read vs. the thickness of the pages yet to read gives the reader a sense of accomplishment when they get closer to the end of the book simply by quickly glancing at the physical object and seeing the bookmark closer to the end.
4) The position of the words on the page (left or right, top or bottom) allows your mind to record your location not just by sight but also by the activation of emotional areas in your brain as well. It creates an experience, and we are more likely to learn from experiences that involve more areas of our minds.
5) Studies have shown that people retain more of what they read in print. This could be because of this multisensory experience explained above, including the texture and smell of the paper. Memories are closely associated with other senses.
6) Print is easier on the eyes than backlit displays. Although they are getting better, there is still a ways to go when it comes to easing up the harshness of screen displays on the eyes.
Cons to Print
The most obvious con with a printed book is the space it takes up and its weight. Books can be very heavy to carry. Not to mention that if you are using more than one book for any reason, several books can take up a lot of space.
Pros and Cons of Reading from a Screen
Pros to Screen
1) You can carry around hundreds of books in one device.
2) You can buy an e-book and start reading right away from your device in a matter of a couple of minutes.
3) You can read certain types of e-books in the dark.
4) References in an e-book can link directly to the other information.
Cons to Screen
One of the cons to reading on a screen is you have to rely on some type of power source, be it electric or battery. There is a continuous process of keeping track of chargers and available charging outlets. The other major downfall associated with e-books, or really any electronic device, is cost. They are usually quite expensive, and there is a learning curve with each one. You can buy a number of physical books for the price of one device.
What Do Studies Show: Reading from Screen Vs. Paper
Studies on screen time and the effects it has on the brain have been conducted for several years. In 2013, a study was done with 10th graders in Norway, with the students divided into 2 groups.
One group read 2 texts (1,400–2,000 words) in print.
The other group read the same documents as a PDF on a computer screen.
In the reading comprehension test that was given, the students who read on paper scored significantly higher than those who read the texts digitally. It was also easier for those who read on paper to remember what they had read.
It is believed that this is due to the spatiotemporal markers provided by a physical book. Touching paper and turning pages aids the memory, making it easier to remember where you read something. Having to scroll on the computer screen makes remembering more difficult.
A 2014 study on adults found that readers who used Kindles were less competent in recalling the plot and events in the book than those who used paperbacks. Researchers still aren’t quite sure why this occurs, but it might have something to do with being able to physically and visually track your progress in a real book.
“’In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,’ said Anne Mangen of Stavanger University in Norway. ‘When you read on paper, you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual. … Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.’”
In a nutshell, this is telling us that in most cases, we actually get more out of the physical copy of a book than an electronic copy. We are more likely to get emotionally involved in a magazine or book than a device. That involvement starts to engage our senses and leads us to a more meaningful experience and better recollection of the story, article, or information.
Although the 2 studies were done on different generational groups, they received similar results. Screens do make the reading experience more difficult and less memorable.
Think about this, in today’s highly electronic world, we are accustomed to scrolling and scanning most things on a screen. What do you do when you are searching on the web? You scroll.
Therefore, when we read from an electronic device, it’s as if we have been taught to immediately start scanning the content. No wonder remembering what we just read is difficult. There is quite a lot of missed information when we scan.
Should Screen Time Be Limited at All Ages?
The short answer is YES! We have all heard of limiting screen time in children and adolescents, but what about adults? For adults, the thought of applying screen time rules to our own devices are often overlooked.
In this age of unlimited screen access, it’s never been more important to use every tool we can to ensure our screen time is healthy and intentional. We have more access to screens than ever before, but we are also facing an entirely new type of problem…
For the first time in history, we have the capability and data required to program technology in ways that condition our biology to grab our attention and keep us coming back.
Meaning we get addicted.
Several studies have been conducted on the addictive nature of screen time and what that means for our lives.
The best thing we can do is to set limits for ourselves on how much time we choose to be on electronics and stick to those limits.
Bottom Line: All Things in Moderation
The goal here isn’t to demonize electronic activity. Technology and e-books have their place in education, entertainment, and communication. However, there is still an overwhelming preference for hard copies when it comes to reading and learning.
When we approach the idea of setting boundaries with our use of electronics, we will have to make concessions with certain things. Books and magazines are a great place to start, especially those that allow readers to experience the beauty of the world around them through engaging stories and vivid images! Hard copies will produce better cognitive retention and retell for children, adolescents, and adults alike, which is why we encourage people to slow down and enjoy reading a printed copy of Creation Illustrated.
 Mangen, A, Walgermo, B R and Brønnick, K (2013). Reading Linear Texts on Paper Versus Computer Screen: Effects on Reading Comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research 58: 61–68, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2012.12.002