The debate between print and electronic publishing has been raging on for some time now. With the proliferation in the use of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets computers, amid new research findings about the impact of screen and paper reading on people, there seems to be no end in sight to the unsettled ‘print versus digital’ debate. For the most part, however, the focus of the argument between paper and e-publishing has been on the consumer side, being the user-friendliness or comfort of each medium, with lovers of the now-popular screen-based content touting its many advantages over traditional print or paper-based formats such as books, newspapers and magazines. These include their relative portability, and the often-cited so-called interactive, value-added experience. On the other hand, loyalists of the paper are quick to point, among other things, to the so-called tactile feel one gets from holding and using the paper, something they claim one can never get from e-reading. On the producer side, the discussion has mostly centred on the implications of changing reading habits or tastes for firm profitability, viability and user satisfaction.
This essay revisits the topic of print versus electronic publishing from the consumer angle. But rather than examining the pros and cons of print and electronic publishing in generic terms, it approaches the conversation quite differently by limiting it to the impact of these two reading formats on three specific aspects of human life, namely: academic learning, social interaction and human health, based on current research findings. The combined assessment of the implications of print and digital publishing or reading for human intellectual advancement, social interaction and health, especially the latter, is something that is missing from many studies on the subject. Therefore, by looking at these issues in tandem, this essay makes a useful contribution to the on-going discussion on this vital subject.
The first area of assessing print and electronic reading in the essay, is academic learning. Academic learning here refers to engaging in acquiring new knowledge and skills, or building on existing ones, usually for higher education and research. Research does not dispute the fact that electronic reading, has tremendously improved the reading habit of people (both students and workers). This is because it is convenient and easily accessible. Contrary to that, several studies also prove its negative effects on academic learning. Some researchers from the university of California in 2014, conducted a survey on children from both groups; those who read print books versus ebooks. The first group was camped at the Pali institute in California, without access to any electronic device, whilst the second group had access to the internet and other electronic devices. Results of this research showed that students who were camped without internet scored higher than those who had access to electronic devices(Wolpert, 2014).
On this same issue, Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University conducted another survey in 2014, where fifty student were given a twenty-eight page book to read. Half of the group read the electronic version whilst the other half read a print version. From the report, students who read the print version had a good report on issues that had to do with narratives whereas those who read from ebooks, did worst when they were asked to simply outline events in the books in a correct order(Flood, 2014). This is another survey that shows the negative effect screen reading has on academic learning. Another research by Anne Mangen reports that reading text in print is better for some aspects of comprehension. In this survey, 72 students were grouped into two; one group read on screen while the other group read on paper. Both groups were given a fiction and a non fiction piece to read, after which they were asked to answer questions that would show how they understood the text(Christensen, 2013). The results clearly revealed that those who read on screens had less understanding than those who read on paper. Paper tends to speak more to our emotions and intellect than the screen does. Are we at risk for being exposed to these electronic devices?
The second aspect, is to assess the implications of print and electronic reading on social interaction. Social interaction refers to the way people act and talk with each other in society, which includes interaction with families and friends. It has been argued on several platforms how technology has affected social interaction both negatively and positively. It is undeniable that technology has influenced online social interaction through the various social media, it has also altered the traditional way we interact. The old-fashioned internet cafe was a place people gathered to interact and also have access to the internet. With these new digital technologies evolving, people do not see the need to move from their home to interact and discuss issues with friends. This is mainly because there is a more convenient way of doing that, which is obviously through the various digital media. Siegel in his book Against The Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob argues that “The internet has radically changed nearly every level of human experience in an incredibly short amount of time” (Siegel, 2008). Technology has brought about some fundamental changes throughout society, particularly among the younger generation. It has transformed communication, changed businesses, health and education. People no longer need to carry books and even laptops to get access to information. People no longer have to be physically present, to get access to a book in a library and other sources of information. It has also helped connect books and other electronic materials to travel beyond its confines by being easily accessible for other countries and nations.
On the other hand, people argue that the internet has also changed the way family and friends interact. In the earlier days, friends and family met to discuss a particular book and even attempted to answer some confusing questions. This made academic discussions more effective through the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Based on the arguments from both sides, can technological developments which has several positive impact, be made to sustain our cultural and societal values?
An important aspect of the essay that is missing in most discussions on this topic, is the negative implications screen reading has on human health. Despite the numerous benefits technology offer, it is important to assess its negative implications on human health. Most of the recent activities are made from screens; mobile phones, tablet computers, e-readers and others. Public Health England announced in August 2013 that, too much time in front of TV and computer screens is causing increase in psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, especially in children. Active video games promote light-to-moderate physical activity in children(Pete Etchells, 2013).
This has become an impediment on children’s well being; physical and mental health. According to the American adults show in February 2014, headaches and neck pain are the biggest complaints of those who use e-readers(Hunter, 2014). Proceeds of a research conducted by the National Academy of Science (US), shows that the use of a light-emitting electronic device in the hours just before going to bed, has a negative impact on a person’s health, alertness, and the circadian clock which synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep. This study, which was to compare the biological effects of reading Ebooks revealed that Ipad readers had reduced secretion of melatonin, a hormone which rises in the evenings and play a role in inducing sleepiness. The results of this research showed that participants who read the Ipad were less sleepy before bedtime, but sleepier and less alert the following morning even after eight hours of sleep (Brigham and Women’s Hospital)
Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. PNAS, December 22, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1418490112
Should a book, that is supposed to add value to a child’s life become an impediment on their health? There should definitely be a way to minimize this trend.
This essay has revisited the debate between print and digital publishing, specifically by examining their impact on academic learning, social interaction and human health. As it could be seen from the discussion, both platforms have their positive and negative consequences on academic learning and social interaction. However, when it comes to the area of human health, digital publishing has (more) adverse impact on human health in comparison to print media. Whilst many people argue about the convenience of e-readers and other electronic devices, they overlook the health dimensions of the use of electronic media. To overcome some of the challenges related to the use of these digital media, there should be a boundary to which people, especially children, can access the internet or use digital media in order to help prevent any health threat, as well as improving academic learning and social interactions.
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