Apr 13, 2010

Reading in an Age of Change

UPDATE: My Overland piece is now available online. There has been a bit if hype recently -

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

UPDATE: My Overland piece is now available online.

There has been a bit if hype recently – some of it self interested – about whether the iPad and other e-readers will be game changers and saviours of media business models. Newspaper managements are naturally hoping that people will pay for content delivered to mobile devices. Rupert Murdoch and his troops are particularly hopeful, since they have stuck their necks out furthest in proclaiming a new era of paywalls.

Like most people, I can’t pretend to know what is going to happen for sure, but I suspect that the e-readers will merely speed up existing trends, rather than changing rules of the game. And the existing trends? More niche media targetting smaller interest groups, and more interaction between content providers and audience members. All this implies a more intense connection between audiences and media outlets, which may mean a greater preparedness to pay for some kinds of content – if it is good enough, and if it can’t be easily obtained elsewhere.

But I very much doubt that large numbers of people will pay for newspapers on the iPad if all they offer is commodotised news that is also freely available elsewhere.

In a deeper sense, though, I do think the nature of reading is changing as a result of technology. I have reflected at this at length in the current issue of Overland magazine, which in conjunction with Meanjin is running a series of pieces on reading in a time of change.

My piece isn’t available online, sadly (irony). [UPDATE: Yes it is.] You will have to fork out for the mag if you want to read it. But there is a blog associated with the joint Meanjin/Overland venture.

To summarise I agree that this will be the year in which e-readers become mainstream, and soon much of our reading will be done on such devices. Books will become “special” objects, rather than utilitarian.

But more significantly, I think the nature of privacy is changing, and that in the future creativity will be seen as residing, not so much in individuals as in the communities that gather around reading and writing.

And I fear that we will lose some of our dark, quiet and private spaces.

Yet at the same time, there is so much to gain.

At the dawn of mass literacy, people worried about whether human beings would lose their ability to remember information. They probably did become less adept at this. Yet who would say that literacy, and the printing press, and all that followed, have been bad things?

We are living through an equivalent change, which is both frightening and exciting.

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5 thoughts on “Reading in an Age of Change

  1. danbloom

    The nature of reading is changing right before our very eyes: screening-reading is not really “reading” but a new mode of human reading called “screening”
    The nature of reading is changing right before our very eyes

    by Danny Bloom

    OPED COMMENTARY to be read on paper or off a screen

    NEW YORK — Do we read differently on the computer screen from how we

    read on the

    printed page? The answer, of course, is yes. But just how different

    and what it means are issues that need further study.

    Anne Mangen, a reading specialist at the

    University of Stavanger in Norway,is one of the leading researchers

    concerned with these differences.

    In an academic paper published in the Journal of Research on Reading in

    December of 2008, Mangen listed a few reasons that reading on paper

    and reading on a screen are different from each other. According to her

    research, and in her opinion:.

    * Reading on a screen is not as rewarding — or effective — as

    reading printed words on paper. MRI brain scans are showing this as proof.

    * The process of reading on a screen involves so much physical

    manipulation of the

    computer that it interferes with our ability to focus on and

    appreciate what we’re reading.

    * Online text moves up and down the

    screen and lacks physical dimension, robbing us of a feeling of


    * The visual happenings on a compter screen and our physical interaction

    with the entire device and its set ip can be distracting. All of these


    tax human cognition and concentration in a way that a book or

    newspaper or magazine does not.

    * The experience of reading a book or a newspaper or a magazine on paper is

    both a story experience and a tactile one.

    When I asked Mim Harrison, a book editor in Florida, about this, she

    said: “I find the

    differences between reading on paper and reading on a screen to be

    intriguing, and it

    certainly gives one pause to consider just what it is we’re doing

    with our eyeballs these days.”

    The experience of reading on a screen is fundamentally different from


    on paper,” a leading futurist and cultural forecaster in California

    told me, adding: “Not a priori worse or better; just

    different.”Mangen’s research, and the work of other people, too, are

    important in terms of drawing people’s attention to the vast literary

    shift about to wash over us.”

    Bill Hill, a former Microsoft web designer from Scotland who is

    still based in the Seattle area, told me that one reason that reading

    on screens is still a bit problematical is because “we are still

    paying the price of an engineering shortcut taken sixteen years ago.”

    Say that again? HIll continued: “Sixteen

    years ago, when the programmers at the NSCA were creating Mosaic, the

    first Web browser, they made an engineering decision based on

    expediency. They took an easy option — for which we’re all still

    paying a huge price in terms of the readability of the Web.”

    They opted for scrolling, Hill said.Big mistake!

    “Type, and layout, has evolved over the 5,500 years since writing

    systems first appeared,” Hill says, “and especially since the

    widespread adoption of Gutenberg’s moveable metal type — to optimize

    for the way human vision works. Sure, you can learn to make do with

    scrolling to read, if there’s nothing better. And there’s no choice on

    the Web today. And that’s what we need to fix to make reading — and design

    first-class citizens on the Web.”

    Reading on paper will be with us for a long time to come, most experts


    but reading on screens is changing the way we experience “reading” as well.


    these differences mean is still poorly understood and needs to be studied


    reading specialists, Web readability experts and technology gurus.

    Reading will always be reading. But it’s changing right before our

    very eyes as well. I am beginning to call reading off screens (screen-reading) as

    “screening”, to coin a new term [with earlier multiple meanings].

    Do you prefer reading or screening? Notice any differences in terms

    of retention, processing, analysis and critical thinking? Join the club.

    Reading on screens is NOT reading.


    Danny Bloom is a freelancer writer and blogger

    with a special interest in the future of reading.

  2. Reading in an Age of Change – The Content Makers England university

    […] the original post:  Reading in an Age of Change – The Content Makers By admin | category: SWINBURNE University of Technology | tags: author, […]

  3. danbloom

    Margaret, i am in taiwan, reading this online and printed out your very good essay in Meanjins. Well said. One thing, nobody seems to be talking about this and i feel it is very important: maybe you blog about this one day, your POV and allow me to do a guest blog here one day, and it is about this: I feel, as a longtime blogger, writer, editor, teacher, READER, that reading on paper is very different from reading on screens, so different that I believe we need a new word for this new kind of reading mode, and i have no idea what the word will be, but for now i am calling it “screening” and I also have a strong hunch that future MRI scans fo the brain will show that reading on paper lights up different parts of the brain compared to when we read on screens, er, that is, when we “screen’ text off screens, and that these diferecnes will be shown to be for retention of the info, processing of the info, analysis of the info and critical thinking ABOUT the info. I am in touch with 25 top reading and education and tech experts worldwide on this, including the pioneering Anne Mangen in Norway and Dr Maryanne Wolf at Tufts in Boston and severael top researchers at UCLA medical school in California. I beleive that future MRI scans will prove my hunch correct, that reading on paper is SUPERIOR to reading off screens, er, screening, for retention, processing, analysis, etc. and that we NEED TO STUDY all this MORE and MORE before we commit to a future where reading on paper is a rare thing and reading off screens, er, screening, is what most people do. Screening is NOT reading. It is more akin to scanning or skimming. I am sure you agree with me. SMILE. Can you write about this? can you let me guest blog about this. Can Meanjins let me do an essay on this? And may i interview YOU for my blog in Taiwan 10 qusetions by email about all this, your POV, pro or con and in between? Can do? Email me off line at danbloom at GMAIL dot com….. – loved your essay, loved the story of your son, turning the pages, loved the last graf re your dad and grandson…..tears in my eyes as i read the print out at home

    QUESTION: why is no one talking about my ideas about paper reading vs screening? The major newspaeprs in US and OZ refuse to accept my opeds on this. Not one reporter will interview me, not pro or con? Why the silence, why the fear? I am telling the truth. I am on the soemthing here. If we build a future based soley on screen-reading, civilization as a whole will suffer. That’s my theme. Agree?

  4. iPad’s and the changing nature of reading | Chasing the Norm

    […] at Margaret Simon’s excellent blog The Content Makers, she has an interesting post up about technology and the changing way we are reading: I suspect that the e-readers will merely […]

  5. Tweets that mention Reading in an Age of Change – The Content Makers -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Darcy Moore. Darcy Moore said: *Recommend you read @MargaretSimons article, "Reading in an Age of Change" http://is.gd/bq7u0 […]

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