Reading on paper, reading on screens

We spend several hours each day looking at screens. Most of what we read, for work or for leisure – reports, student essays, blogs, newspapers – now we read on a screen.

But reading on a screen is less conducive to concentration than reading on paper. At least, that’s what a recent study from 2019 seems to indicate. Students memorize better what they read on paper.

I don’t think it has to do with the brightness of the screen affecting our eyes. It’s just that on a screen, and particularly if we are reading on the web, that so are many more elements that catch our attention that it is difficult to focus just on simply following the text. And most of it is really involuntary: our eyes meander around the screen captured by images or ads, and our brain has so many different stimuli that concentration becomes harder.

But there is another question related to reading on the Internet that has been less discussed: what would happen if, say, there was some kind of digital apocalypse and all servers worldwide went down? A lot of the information online has no actual existence beyond data in the cloud. Granted, it’s not likely that this could happen, and of course there is a lot of redundancy and multiple copies on multiple servers, but still, text written on paper has survived for millennia. And digital technology is very recent and yet it has gone to so many changes, from floppy disks to zip drives, that we really cannot be sure how it will be a thousand years for now.

So paper will probably remain with us, one way or another.