Saturday, February 25, 2012
From Tangible to Virtual
Chapter five of Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows briefly discusses the shift from print to electronically accessed data. Carr describes his belief that “the shift from paper to screen doesn’t just change the way we navigate a piece of writing. It also influences the degree of attention we devote to it and the depth of our immersion in it” (Carr, 90). After reading this and contemplating it, I realized that I too believe this to be true. As we switch to digital editions of text, printed books and the traditional experience they elicit is becoming more and more obsolete.
The second you pick up a printed book your senses are activated. You use your hands to hold, turn and browse the book. You use your sight to examine the front cover, back cover and internal text. We often smell the book without even realizing it. These actions and the physical contact with the book provide the reader with a very intimate and personal experience. When reading is done online, our hands navigate the keyboard/mouse to find the text. Our sight is also activated to read the text. Online reading provides a less intimate experience because readers are not as engaged in the reading as they would be with print. Compared to physically holding a book though, the reader extracts a totally different experience (whether this is good or bad is irrelevant). It’s almost as if the screen provides a barrier from the text.
Another downfall to reading on a computer is the level of distractibility it can elicit. Readers often get distracted because of the endless amount of things they can do and see on the computer. Icons such as the ones for the Internet, games or Skype offer constant temptation for the reader. People often click on a link intending to check “one quick thing” and find themselves on a totally unrelated website minutes later. Online reading can also contribute to skimming and attaining a misunderstanding for the piece. This is because we have a tendency to scroll through the text before the information is absorbed and processed through the brain. When reading online the material can also become very easy to walk away from, especially if it’s a boring piece or the reader is uninterested in the topic.
When reading a book, the reader often finds a comfortable chair, couch or bed to sit and relax on. While on a computer, the reader is most likely sitting at a desk or in an upright/uncomfortable desk chair. This allows even the most minor thoughts and disruptions to be acted on. The reader will be more at will to get up if they are in an uncomfortable position than if they are in a comfortable one.
While reading from a computer screen is still reading, I feel as though a vital piece of the traditional reading experience is lost. It is just not the same to read a book without having to flip the pages. If one brings a Kindle to the beach, they have to be much more careful with it than if they were to bring a paperback. Reading with a Kindle allows readers to have a virtual library in their hands but it takes away from the simplicity of reading from a paperback.