The Art of Reading

women-dress-reading-books-turkish-nail-polishMost people take reading for granted and much of the text we read has changed format over the past few decades from analogue sources to become largely electronic in form.  This of course is fine for the majority of what we read, because a vast amount of it is at best work related or instructional, and if not then it’s usually inconsequential chatter.  But what about reading for pleasure or for proper learning?

I can see the advantages of reading via an e-book (particularly the space saving aspect and the instant access to what you are searching for) but this convenience has not persuaded me to exchange printed words for e-ink.  Part of the pleasure for me is in the connection to the physical page, it’s natural feel and warmth, a book has a physical presence, it feels like a body of work, rather than an anonymous block of plastic and the cold glow of a screen – simply put, you cannot snuggle up with a computer, can you!

With this in mind it was interesting to read recently that the format we read on significantly affects how well we absorb what we are reading.  Apparently we tend to skim read the digital, whereas we are more inclined to mentally and emotionally connect with the analogue – it is nice sometimes to find that what you instinctively feel is actually supported by a range of learned studies.

Ironically it was on the digitally published treehugger.com website that I found an article by Katherine Martinko called Why You Should Read More Paper Books This Year which summarises the issue quite nicely (I have reproduced it below).

E-readers are undeniably practical, but science has weighed in on the debate and come up with a surprisingly traditional conclusion.

As life moves faster and faster, there is a growing desire to slow things down. This is reflected in the burgeoning “slow” movements, in which people purposely take time to complete tasks that could otherwise be done faster. Interest is increasing in activities such as knitting, cooking the “slow” way, baking bread, engaging in slow travel, and shopping for “slow” fashion.

There is even a “slow reading” movement, which advocates regaining the ability to enjoy an old-fashioned paper book for long periods of time without the distractions of the digital world. Some people have even started book clubs where they get together to read in silence, phones turned off.

You may think it strange to place such priority on a mere material, but these slow readers realize something that many others don’t – that reading paper books has real benefits, supported by a number of studies, that e-readers simply cannot match, despite their undeniable practicality.

Readers absorb less on Kindles and iPads than when they read on paper.

According to a study from Norway’s Stavanger University, lead researcher Anne Mangen says:

“The haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”When 72 Norwegian tenth-graders were given a text to read either as a PDF or as a printed document, followed by a comprehension test, the “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension tests than students who read the texts digitally.”

The Wall Street Journal reported a 2007 study of 100 people that found that multimedia presentations using a mixture of words, sounds, and moving images resulted in lower retention levels than when the audience read a plain text version, minus all the fancy so-called comprehension aids.

Reading on paper reinforces a skill that must be practiced in order not to be lost.

We have become so accustomed to reading sentences accompanied by links and colourful advertisements that it’s actually difficult to follow the long and often meandering progress of literary sentences.

Screens have changed the way in which we read. Barraged by information and in a perpetual hurry, most of us read, without even realizing it, in an “F” pattern – scanning across the top line of text, but then down the left side of the screen and only partly across the other lines, searching for important words and headlines.

Slow reading is exercise for your brain.

Unless we actively pursue the act of reading as it used to be done, we risk losing our ability to enjoy it – and there are repercussions for that, including greater stress, poorer mental agility later in life, reduced ability to concentrate, and less empathy.

Kids do better in school when firmly grounded in reading, and that is a lifestyle habit that is seriously influenced by parental guidance and example. A 1997 study published in Developmental Psychology found that reading ability in first grade is closely linked to academic achievement in grade eleven – all the more reason to have paper books lying around the house as a tangible reminder to keep reading.

Slow-reading advocates recommend setting aside 30-45 minutes per day to read a book, much in the same way you’d dedicate time toward regular exercise. Make a date for yourself with a paperback, and think of it as a workout for your brain. It will calm you before bed in a way that an e-reader screen cannot, and you will experience a real improvement in your ability to get through a novel, especially if you haven’t done it in a while.

Perhaps you can make it a personal challenge for 2015 to read more than one book, which is what 25 percent of the U.S. population failed to do last year.

Talking to Machines

I should really have titled this article ‘Talking to People Through Machines’, but that’s a bit long-winded and not quite as eye-catching as simply ‘Talking to Machines’.

The main purpose for this posting was to add a picture I came across on Treehugger showing a cartoon of two people making video-calls.  It was published in a German magazine of the 1930’s.  As the article (by Lloyd Alter) on Treehugger highlights, not only is this fascinating for predicting personal video phones (or as we know them now Smartphones with Skype or Facetime apps), but also the attitude of the people – casually ignoring the person in front of them in preference to the machine.

Two people ignoring each otherOf course video phones have popped up in science fiction almost since the beginning of science fiction. Even shortly after the invention of the telephone people were already speculating on the possibility of seeing the person you were speaking to. There are many examples of videophones that come to mind from cinema, but rarely are they ever handheld devices. Some of the most memorable include the one built by humans as a test set by super-brainy aliens in ‘This Island Earth‘ and the space-station to earth call in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘.  There was also one in ‘Metropolis‘ in 1927 and I’m sure similar ones were also used in the 30’s science fiction serials like ‘Flash Gordon‘ and ‘The Phantom Empire‘.

This Island Earth (1955)

2001 - A Space Odyssey (1968)

Metropolis (1927)

There are good overviews of the history and development (usually at huge expense with little advancement) of real working examples of the videophone idea on the Wikipedia entry (under Videophone, of course!).  There is also quite an interesting article here (which is one of many articles on Retrofuturistic ideas which might be worth further investigation).

AT&T spent over US$500 million up to the end of the 60’s on the development of their own Picturephone, but a paragraph from the Picturephone article (a part of the Tales of Future Past on the fascinating davidszondy site) probably explains why the whole idea didn’t really take off until the arrival of computers, smartphones and apps:-

Part of the reason was the cost.  Picturephone was not cheap: $125 per month plus $21 per minute.  Also, there was the problem of how you use a Picturephone when you’re one of the very few people who have one.  Without a compelling reason to think that people were going to sign up for picturephones real quick you’re faced with the reality that there’s a whole lot of nobody to talk to out there. 

AT&T Picturephone