Paper vs pixels. Does it matter how we read? Part 1.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of


They get poked, scratched, picked at, bent, ripped, dropped, stood on, licked, eaten, dribbled on,scribbled on and dropped in the bath amid a host of other abuses.

Despite that, they have endured, largely unchanged, for centuries. Certainly, they have more color and are easier to produce than ever before but, notwithstanding, Gutenberg would recognize a book today for exactly what it was.

What and how we read

For some hundreds, even thousands, of years, paper-based (parchment, papyrus, vellum etc) text was the only real way of transmitting the writing we did and, in most cases, reading was the preserve of the wealthy.

In recent centuries however, subsequent to Gutenberg’s moveable-type press, books became cheap to produce, and reading began to spread. Now, of course, we assume reading is a fundamental educational right, and something that we all ought to be able to do.

But reading is a skill; we have to learn how to do it and to become expert at it. No doubt you know people who picked it up easily and those who struggled to master it.

And in addition to there being competition for what we read, now there is significant competition for how we read. Do we read on screen, or on paper?

Paper natives and digital natives

Naturally, there’s a lot to be said for plain old preference. Some people just like the electronic format. Others just prefer paper. With preferences, each can defend their position. And there is an argument to be made for the brain preferring what its used to also, as new habits are hard to develop.

Online news has certainly become the preference for many (witness The Huffington Post) and newspapers have noticed rapidly declining readerships, but e-books and e-readers have not put books into the same position. In fact, book numbers are increasing, still. Moreover, a glance at my magazine store would suggest that there are an increasing number of magazines, also.

That said, my children are growing up with iPads, Kindles, smart phones and tablets. They are, in the vernacular, digital natives. I was, by contrast, a paper native. For many kids today, the preference, by dint of exposure, is for electronic over paper. For me, it’s paper. But for many of my peers, it’s becoming electronic as they spend more and more time online and less and less time with paper.

So for your children, and mine, what do they do? And not just our kids. What do you, and I, do? Is it better to read one form or another? Can we tell the difference? Does it matter? Do we care?

So here’s the take home bit

We’re going to work through this in three or four posts. I think there is an answer, and there are implications, but more on that later.

For now, I’m keen to find out what you do. Please take this quick survey to help us kickstart the conversation.

What do you think?

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About brendonbclark

Hi, I’m Brendon, but people usually call me B. I’ve a Masters degree in psychology, postgraduate qualification in mental health, and qualifications in counselling, professional supervision and adult education. I consult, speak and blog. Join me, you can subscribe for free.
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3 Responses to Paper vs pixels. Does it matter how we read? Part 1.

  1. Glen says:

    You probably should add some extra questions to the survey to get the full picture, eg. a question about reading from back lit electronic devices verses e-paper devices like the kindle. I answered a preference for paper to most of the questions, but would count the kindle as the equivalent of paper, and now read most of my books from this electronic device – which is quite different to reading from an electronic device with back lighting like the iPad – IMHO 🙂

  2. Bev says:

    Have just done the survey on LinkedIn – I’m obviously a dinosaur, but I knew that! But some of my answers aren’t quite accurate e.g. no. 5 my true answer would be ‘depends on where I’m sitting e.g. in my office or on the train’. No. 8 would be ‘depends on how interesting the footnote appears to be’.

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