The screen vs. paper stand-off

Does your brain prefer paper? In our office, we’ve discovered a “gender gap”. Karen and Carrie prefer to print documents and edit with pen on paper. We find this practice more comfortable, and faster. However, the younger generation prefers to read documents on the screen, and track changes electronically.  I have an e-reader, which I appreciate for its portability, but I still prefer to pick up a book occasionally, and I still prefer to do my “thinking” with paper.

An article by Ferris Jabr, published in Scientific American in November, 2013, addressed this issue. Aside from the possibly age-related affinity for the “feel” of a book, according to research, we have valid reasons for preferring paper for some reading. People are less “conducive to learning” when they approach a screen. It’s harder to navigate through long texts, which may impede comprehension. A screen also creates higher levels of stress and tiredness. Some researchers think that the act of scrolling, and following the text as it moves, drains some of our mental resources. When approaching a “screen”, people are more likely to browse, scan, and flip around, rather than read a document once, thoroughly.

Even children perform better with books than e-books, which implies that the preference is more than just age-bias. They remember more from stories in books than on screens, with distracting enhanced animations.

When do screens and computers have a clear advantage over paper? Some of us can remember the days when we had to go to the library, and use the drawers of cards to find the address of a book that might, just might, contain information about a topic we wanted to research. And clearly forests of trees are saved by the amount of work that we do electronically, with never a drop of ink. When we want to be entertained, computers offer writers/programmers many more options to create a visual “experience” with graphics and videos. Some creative authors are scripting interactive books, with storylines that change depending on the reader’s response. It’s hard to accomplish that on paper!

Leave A Comment