Monday, April 14, 2014

Paper vs. Ebooks

While browsing the Books section of Bustle, I stumbled across an article titled “Ebooks May Hurt Reading Comprehension, Interfere With ‘Deep Reading’” by Tori Telfer. I clicked through because I've stubbornly stuck to paper words, without being able to define why. What I read in the article resonated with me and made me contemplate my Internet practices.

Telfer pointed to a study performed by two professors at West Chester University that found that children absorb what they read in print better than in ebooks, because ebooks offer opportunities for interaction with pictures and lights rather than with words. Adults are prone to the same habits. Telfer brought up work done by Maryanne Wolf, who studied deep reading, which is essentially the idea that as we read words on paper, our brains process what we know about each word, and put it together with the other words on the page to form novel breakthroughs in our thinking. However, this deep reading is lost when we read ebooks, and no one is quite sure how. The article told the sad tale of frustrated English professors who wrote to Wolf because their students couldn't handle George Eliot and other authors who write long, deep prose.

I was drawn to the article because I have experienced this peculiar phenomenon while browsing the Internet. In Santa Barbara, as some of you know, we didn't have Internet, so we read all the time. We’d get home from work, have dinner, hang out, and then read for hours. It was glorious. We devoured books. We did other things besides read, don’t worry; there was a beach ten minutes away! However, on typical weeknights, you would usually find us reading. I’d access the Internet briefly at work, when my kids were napping, and in coffee shops on the weekend.

When we moved to Connecticut, we knew Aaron would need the Internet to study, and indeed he has made great use of it to supplement what he learns in class. It’s nice to be able to look up directions, or order a product off Amazon. But some days I miss our 12th century existence, and that feeling intensified when I caught myself reading less. I was spending so much time online that it took me four months rather than two to read through the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The worst shock, however, struck when I checked out A Farewell to Arms from the library.

Anyone who has read any of my author bios could tell you I love Hemingway. I identified with his writing style as early as high school, when I assigned myself The Old Man and the Sea and relished it. I studied his work throughout college, and really fell in love when I read For Whom The Bell Tolls after graduation. Somehow I’d never read A Farewell to Arms, which for an English major is simply disgraceful, so when I checked it out, I was sure I would consume it in a handful of days.

That’s not what happened. It took me a few weeks to read Hemingway’s classic novel. I found myself struggling through his prose, and had a hard time connecting to the story until midway through the novel. I was horrified. I caught myself preferring to spend time on Pinterest rather than reading Hemingway. What kind of person had I become?

Yes, I am a very visual person, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet I used to eat up words like brownies. Hemingway provided the catalyst for me to realize I was spending too much time seduced by a screen.

It’s not an option to go back to the days of limited Internet. It is possible to set boundaries on my time, and that’s what I've been working on. I can’t say I've mastered that process, but I find I feel healthier when I turn off the computer a few hours before bed and read instead. I've tried to be very intentional with my Internet time (such as working on the blog), and moving away from the screen to do yoga has helped, too. Yet the intrigue of the Internet is not easy to conquer. I’m obviously on the computer right now. However, I know I desire to live a life filled with books and the outdoors rather than a life hunched over a computer screen, and the vision of that life prompts me to work for edifying Internet habits.

In our world, it’s hard to escape the Internet. Much of my writing work occurs online (although I often try to hand write my articles before typing them). I communicate with many of my California friends online. These valuable aspects of the Internet make me glad I can access it in the Hobbit Hole. I’m working to view the Internet as a tool, rather than the sole source of entertainment.

It’s an ongoing journey, yet I have made progress. The battle is not over, but I will keep fighting until I achieve the life I envision.

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