Digital vs Print, How Will We Read?

Not many can argue with the perks of digital access that give the reader the ability to jump to a link, look up a foreign word, and pull up a figure immediately. Portability is another plus, with digital access making the size of the article or book only as cumbersome as the size of a smart phone, tablet, or computer. But as we embrace the digital and move away from physical print as our primary medium of dissemination, what might we lose?

Dr. Karin Wulf explores this question here using the work of scholars such as Drs. MaryAnne Wolf and Naomi Baron who have studied the human brain in relation to literacy and its response to the rise of digital technology. Dr. Baron conducted a study of students who felt that comprehension and memory were improved when they interacted with the hard copy of a text and that most readers would prefer physical pages if ease of use and cost were comparable.

Also, the result of the increased availability of information, ideas such as what Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention” explain the effect this constant stimulation has on our ability to fully comprehend and analyze information. This idea is not entirely positive for the world of scholarship but if properly channeled, the potentially negative outcomes of “scattered attention” and “superficial skimming” could translate to increased accountability as this partial attention is directed to checking the validity of what one is reading, searching for alternate perspectives, and potentially joining in the conversation.

Even here at the Journal, we increase access to our authors’ research by making it open access on our website, draw attention to it by tweeting about it on our institution’s Twitter feed, and reinforce this attention by writing about this whole process on the blog you are now reading.

Case in point, digital access is changing the way we read, allowing research and learning to become a more interactive process. With pros and cons to each medium, we hope to find a good balance through this shift, staying relevant and easily available to new readers and maintaining the in-depth focused medical commentary and scholarship that we hold as our standard.

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Photo by Darren Coleshill on Unsplash