I don’t have the best of memories, but ever since I was young, I prided myself on a particular talent with respect to reading. Occasionally I’d be near the end of a book, and would recall a passage near the beginning that I wanted to revisit. I wouldn’t remember the page or chapter, but almost without fail, I would recall the location on the page where the passage in question was. I knew that that wondeful description of Mr. Pumblechook appeared on the bottom half of a right-hand page, perhaps 10 lines from the bottom, and a few lines after a paragraph break.
I never knew what to make of this talent–how common it was, or whether it indicated I read more closely than others–but one thing I do know: it doesn’t have an analog in e-reading. I recall the sense of dismay I felt upon learning that e-books didn’t have pages per se, but “locations.” There was no such thing anymore as the description near the top of the page, since the location of text varied depending on the size of the text. The Kindle has extinguished my talent.
Scientific American takes a look this week at the differences between reading on paper versus reading electronically, from a scientific standpoint. When we move from dead trees to ones and zeroes, do we retain the same amount of information? Does the text and its meaning penetrate as deeply? “The matter is by no means settled,” writes author Ferris Jabr. Nonetheless, there is evidence that indicates that e-reading fails to replicate the “intuitive and satisfying” ways of navigating through longer texts, and that “[i]n turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.”