Digital reading, via such electronic reading devices as the Nook, the Kindle, and the recently departed Sony Reader, has been around long enough now that its side-effects are starting to be measured and discussed. The root question regarding digital reading explored by Naomi S. Baron in Words Onscreen is one of whether or not “digital reading is reshaping our very understanding of what it means to read.” Readers of Words Onscreen, if they had not already reached that conclusion before beginning the book, are likely to come away from a reading of it with a resounding “yes” in answer to the author’s question.
Few would argue that reading a book on a Kindle provides the same experience as reading that same book in its physical form. Each format has its own set of distinct characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages and, largely depending on personal preferences, each format attracts strong advocates – and equally strong critics. Naomi Baron, by exploring those advantages, disadvantages, and related characteristics in detail, explains why that is and why it is unlikely to change. If not always surprising, what Baron learns in her study of digital reading (and digital readers) is always thought provoking enough to steer the reader toward self-examination of his own feelings about the electronic reading process and environment.
|Naomi S. Baron|
Baron begins with the premise that digital reading is suitable for shorter pieces of light content, the kind of thing the reader neither intends to analyze nor to reread. At the same time, she states that digital reading is not at all suited for reading most long works or works of any length that require “serious thought” on the part of the reader. Does this mean that, as the prevalence of digital reading continues to increase, certain types of reading will be abandoned by even the most serious of readers? Baron, in her chapter detailing the ever-increasing adoption of digital textbooks by American colleges, argues that this might just be the case. And that shift in focus and ability to deeply study a text, she argues, will have detrimental effects on all of our futures.
Words Onscreen explores these and many other issues related to America, Canada, and Britain’s eager (although the pace has slowed in recent months) adoption of digital reading. Interestingly, for a variety of reasons, some of which are financial and some cultural, the rest of the world has not moved toward digital reading nearly as enthusiastically as have these three countries. Even more interesting, because it seems to defy common sense, is the discovery that much of the resistance toward digital reading comes from readers in their twenties and younger. One would have expected such resistance to come almost exclusively from older, more tradition-oriented, readers. That this is not the case, however, is only one of the surprises to be found in Words Onscreen.
Side Note: I read Words Onscreen in digital form and, as a result, while reading it I experienced firsthand some of what Baron describes in the book. I have found, however, that as I gain experience in reading e-books, I am beginning to overcome some of the limitations inherent to digital reading.