Organisations where computer screens are not key productivity and learning tools are seldom found. The digital age has completely transformed the way we learn, receive information and connect with the world.
Print vs. digital – what’s the difference?
Reading, in any form, activates a portion of the brain called the right retrosplenial cortex. According to neuroscientists, this part of the brain is responsible for remembering specific events, navigation and imagining the future. This is the part of the mind that takes disparate information and fits it together within the context of our own unique experiences. When viewed through Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI), this process can be seen as a light that grows brighter as the human consciousness seeks to amalgamate the places, descriptions, characters and data conveyed by the written word.
Dozens of studies over the past 30 years have sought to explore the differing effects of reading in print versus on a monitor display, with no clear result, as many show no difference. While digital and print are arguably neck and neck when it comes to raw data retention, the act of reading the printed word promotes cognitive processes in people who are more used to reading printed materials.
The role of print in an increasingly digital world
There are benefits of digital content. Research from the University of Wellington (Is Google Making us Stupid?) shows that reading online helps to increase the quantity we read, how fast we can read and our skimming ability. San José State University in the U.S. (Changes in reading behaviour over the past ten years, Ziming Liu) has proved that screen-based technology has actually altered the way we read: digital reading means people are spending more time browsing, scanning and keyword spotting and are reading more selectively, with the caveat that this applies specifically to internet use rather than ebooks and other dedicated digital reading materials.
Children born today are digital natives and many will never know a life without the internet due to the prevalent use of desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones for reading. So, the question of how reading digital content effects our ability to process information and understand the world around us has never been more relevant. But that doesn’t mean we should discourage digital reading, either. A recent study in the UK by the National Literacy Trust (Children, young people and digital reading, 2019) found that twice as many young people who read at an advanced level for their age enjoy fiction both in print and on screen, compared with those who read below the expected level.
In our increasingly digital-centric, always-on lives, one thing is clear – ink and paper still have an important function. The ability to take our reading offline by hitting print will help us to better capitalize on the remarkable benefits of our online world.