Lit Bit: Reading Habits in a Digital Age

I realized something a while ago. As much as I love technology, as much as I find computers to be a comfort, I cannot make myself cozy with an e-reader. It makes me wonder if anyone else has had this adaptive dilemma.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Story, don’t tell me you’re a Luddite!” I can assure you, I’m not. While I flirt with the notion of older technologies, and I stop to wonder at where new modes of communication may take our cognition, I by no means think our devices, our screens, our intarwebs are a bad thing. They are mixed blessings, but blessings all the same.

At first I thought that it was just that tablets and e-readers felt too much like computers to me, but I soon realized I was wrong. No, the reason I can’t quite work with an e-reader is that all my learning is in my body. When I think, I have to move or gesticulate wildly. I have to locate a notion in physical space in order to rough it out, give it a relative position adjacent to me, and the other thoughts on my mental table. I learn and create positionally. Relatively. In terms of reading, I need to hold a physical object. Not had to do, right? An e-reader, like a brick or book, can be thrown at a person.

Ah! But my recall of the text aligns with its physical being. When I remember a non-fiction passage, I remember the physical location of the paragraph within the text. I remember whether it’s on the right or left side (even if I can’t remember right from left in general), I remember how deep into a text a piece of information was found, and the general shape of the surrounding paragraphs. Without a physical book to delve into, my recall of a text drops.

It doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t evaporate entirely. But the change is noticeable. Annoying. More so now that the bulk of my reading is on a screen. Even just the physical act of turning a page cements something in my head.

A touch screen helps. Flipping pages in a manner where I “directly” manipulate the text makes a difference. But then I have no physical marker of how deep into a text I am. There is a visual one, yes, but a tablet doesn’t thicken at one end and thin at the other as you move through pages. The whole concept of a page loses meaning when you can resize the letters to better suit your vision. The entire idea of physical orientation then goes up in smoke, as does the information on the right side or left side, the shape of the surrounding text as a marker of location.

It is an odd thing to notice, really. I want to embrace this technology. After all, I blog, tweet, and I’m formatting my chapbook for the Kindle. And as I’ve said, this hobble is not a crippling one, though it is a hobble. It’s just painful to watch a familiar and tried technique fall by the wayside.

Now the question is: will I find a technology to adapt these new modes of text distribution to my learning patterns, or will I develop new ways to reposition a text in my brain in order to properly digest it?

What things have changed about your modes of digesting books? Have you noticed any stumbling blocks of your own in trading page for screen?

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