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Old 10-16-2009, 04:10 AM   #1
llreader
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Post "Does the Brain Like E-Books?" (NYTimes)

There was an interesting opinion piece in the NYTimes today, entitled "Does the Brain Like E-Books?". Five different specialist comment on how eBooks compare to traditional texts.

EDIT: Very sorry, I didn't include a link! http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.c...-like-e-books/

# Alan Liu, English professor
# Sandra Aamodt, author, “Welcome to Your Brain”
# Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development
# David Gelernter, computer scientist
# Gloria Mark, professor of informatics

I liked the pieces by Liu and Mark. Liu discusses "the balance between focal and peripheral attention" and Mark talks about the dynamics of reading online, hypertext information:

Quote:
Reading online is thus not just about reading text in isolation. When you read news, or blogs or fiction, you are reading one document in a networked maze of an unfathomable amount of information. My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.
Aamolt says:

Quote:
To a great extent, the computer’s usefulness for serious reading depends on the user’s strength of character. Distractions abound on most people’s computer screens. The reading speed reported in academic studies does not include delays induced by clicking away from the text to see the new email that just arrived or check out what’s new on your favorite blog. In one study, workers switched tasks about every three minutes and took over 23 minutes on average to return to a task. Frequent task switching costs time and interferes with the concentration needed to think deeply about what you read.
Wolf says :

Quote:
For my greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now,perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).
These comments resonate with my experience of reading, working and studying in an always-connected environment. I am doing a (second) Master's program at the moment, and I find many of the assignments initially overwhelming, because the reading material is, essentially, infinite. It is hard to get a focus on how much depth to go into with the material.

The distraction factor is huge as well (I am at work right now ).

One of the important reasons I decided to buy a Sony Reader is that it has no internet connection. I am hoping this will help me focus better when reading (both for studies and pleasure). This issue also ties into recent discussions about the new Google book proposal (which remains a bit murky). At first, some people assumed that the books available online would be downloadable, and others assumed they would be net-access only. Most were not sure. But almost universally, the idea of reading books online was considered a bad thing. I think we instinctively know this is not a good medium for reading long texts.

What do you think?

Last edited by llreader; 10-16-2009 at 09:49 AM.
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Old 10-16-2009, 06:35 AM   #2
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I can confirm that it's my experience as well. It's even hard to stick to an entire article without getting distracted by something else to read. And there's always more to read. Always.

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Old 10-16-2009, 06:37 AM   #3
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I can confirm too that it's difficult for me to concentrate on-line, but with the reader/PDA/iPhone I have the same concentration than with a p-book (you have to touch me in the shoulder to tell me you're there )
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Old 10-16-2009, 06:38 AM   #4
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But there's a point I don't get. What's the relation between reading a book and reading on-line?
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Old 10-16-2009, 06:43 AM   #5
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yagiz: :-D

Terisa: Well, for me the relationship is that I am in an online study program, with most of our material distributed as PDF files, and read on the computer (because I feel bad about priting out reams of stuff that is marginally useful). So I read a lot on the computer, but "on the computer" is online, always, with emails arriving, and the Internet just a click away.

It has become an especially important issue with Google's new proposal to make their books (maybe) online only.
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Old 10-16-2009, 09:12 AM   #6
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Thats why I am happy, my eReader has no Internet Connection.

But I also have times when I switch from one book, report or article to the next.

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Old 10-16-2009, 09:37 AM   #7
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Yes, I chose a reader with no wireless, because the idea bothered me. Now, reading this commentary, it is very clear.
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Old 10-16-2009, 10:38 AM   #8
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Brain loves E-Books



This time my plans shall not go awry.
I shall conquer the world with E-Books!



Narf!
How are you gonna do that, Brain?



I shall name the observational devices "Liseuse".
After the resulting conflict the humans will turn
to me for leadership
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Old 10-16-2009, 11:18 AM   #9
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There needs to be wider studies of the effects of growing up as kids with ubiqutious connectvity of devices, sure. You're all encountering this stuff as adults, will kids raised with these things be able to multi-task better?

(Interestingly enough as a side point: I'm dyslexic and score highly on multi-tasking, I can manage a lot of data...and my score on being tested there is not unusual for other high-functioning dyslexics who've been tested, either)
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Old 10-16-2009, 11:46 AM   #10
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This issue is also why people buy applications like this: WriteRoom
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Old 10-16-2009, 11:50 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phogg View Post
I shall name the observational devices "Liseuse".
After the resulting conflict the humans will turn
to me for leadership
Of course you know Brain always fails. So we can still do without that silly word.

Last edited by JSWolf; 10-16-2009 at 11:52 AM.
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Old 10-16-2009, 12:04 PM   #12
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Of course you know Brain always fails. So we can still do without that silly word.


Yes!
My plan is working.
The conflict begins.
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Old 10-16-2009, 12:29 PM   #13
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My brain likes ebooks, but my pancreas is ambivalent. My parathyroids are downright hostile towards them.
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Old 10-16-2009, 12:32 PM   #14
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The title of this thread/the article is a tad misleading though.. asking "does the brain like multi-tasking" really is quite different (and more broadly applicable) than "does the brain like ebook reading (on a PC?)"..
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Old 10-16-2009, 12:43 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by llreader View Post
I think we instinctively know this is not a good medium for reading long texts.
It's not that the medium is not good for reading long texts... it's that it needs to be properly arranged to allow the reader to focus on content, and this is very often the opposite of what is done, especially on the web.

Reading text on the web, or on your computer, isn't much different than reading from a newspaper or magazine. All of them include "distractions," in the form of ads, other articles, headlines to other articles, etc, that clamor for your attention while you read. Those items are put there to make sure you see them... that's the point. Some people have no problem focusing out these distractions, while others have more trouble. If you've ever seen someone fold their newspaper so that only the article was visible, they are usually doing this to hide the unwanted elements on the page, to better focus on the desired content.

This can be done on a computer as well, setting screen size and resolution, application window size, display preferences, etc, to block many of the "distractions," such as other applications, sideline content, etc, from view. Many people don't go through the trouble of doing all this, hence, they are constantly distracted by these elements. Some people do this as second nature. And others can simply filter out the distractions mentally.

There are plenty of external distractions to deal with, as well, and these are similar whether you read paper or computer screens: Traffic noise, conversations, radios, shifting surroundings, all can impact concentration and thereby be a distraction. And again, some people are better at focusing past these distractions than others.

The "process" of sitting at a computer or holding a dedicated reader are relatively new, so those processes are being learned for the first time by everyone. But the new generations, who will be introduced to this as infants and deal with it forever, will be better able to deal with the differences and "distractions" that vex the rest of us. And just as we "oldsters" learned to move from full-sized typewriter keyboards to Blackberries (something most learned men said would never, ever happen), they will learn to develop the skills they need to keep up with the changes in technology.

For them, electronic reading will be "instinctual," and many of the things we debate today will only be history's footnotes to them.
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