People have been reading on computer screens for several decades now, predating popularization of personal computers and widespread use of the internet. But it was the rise of eReaders and tablets that caused digital reading to explode. In 2007, Amazon introduced its first Kindle. Three years later, Apple debuted the iPad. Meanwhile, as mobile phone technology improved and smartphones proliferated, the phone became another vital reading platform.
In Words Onscreen, Naomi Baron, an expert on language and technology, explores how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues, including convenience, potential cost-savings, and the opportunity to bring free access to books and other written materials to people around the world. Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks. Users are easily distracted by other temptations on their devices, multitasking is rampant, and screens coax us to skim rather than read in-depth. What is more, if the way we read is changing, so is the way we write. In response to changing reading habits, many authors and publishers are producing shorter works and ones that don't require reflection or close reading.
In her tour through the new world of eReading, Baron weights the value of reading physical print versus online text, including the question of what long-standing benefits of reading might be lost if we go overwhelmingly digital. She also probes how the internet is shifting reading from being a solitary experience to a social one, and the reasons why eReading has taken off in some countries, especially the United States and United Kingdom, but not others, like France and Japan. Reaching past the hype on both sides of the discussion, Baron draws upon her own cross-cultural studies to offer a clear-eyed and balanced analysis of the ways technology is affecting the ways we read today--and what the future might bring.
The solidity of the printed word disappears when transferred to the computer screen, with consequences both cultural and cognitive, according to this probing study of e-reading. American University linguistics professor Baron (Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World) surveys the history and brain science of reading, drawing on her own research into college students' reading experiences to explore the effects of reading off of Kindles, laptops, and cell phones. These technologies, she argues, have spawned habits of shallow skimming, distracted multitasking, and quick forgetting rather than the deep, focused attention and analysis we accord to printed books; the result is a new paradigm of literacy "in which length and complexity and annotation and memory and rereading and, especially, concentration are proving more challenging." That's the bad news; the good news, she notes, is that ordinary readers maintain a healthy preference for paper and ink and are pushing back against the onscreen-reading bandwagon. Baron's breezy prose written in brief, pithy sections, a structure that owes much to online conventions packs much erudition into a lucid, engaging style. Among the many death-of-the-book jeremiads, her case for the ongoing relevance of the printed page stands out for its clarity and common sense. Photos.