Paper Versus Digital

Books, that is.

This week I was asked my opinion about differences using text books and digital books.  It’s an interesting question and I hope you’ll toss in your thoughts.  Coincidentally, this topic came up over the weekend with Rebecca.  Some of the medical schools have all their books on an iPad; some still use texts.  We also hear about public schools making the switch to digital books and know it’s a matter of time until everyone has a Star Trek style book reader.

Our family has had some experience using digital books both for learning and for pleasure reading.

One observation: Some people, like my parents, absorb everything they read and can have great discussions about a book.  Some people, like me, zoom through the book and barely remember the title…even if it’s a good book.  I need to hold something in my hand and take notes… (Come to think of it that’s how I watch TV too…no wonder I can watch reruns of NCIS over and over and think they are new episodes.)  In other words, learning styles vary and so will what works best for each of us.

But back to the books.

As a homeschool family we were able to evaluate what worked and what didn’t when it came to teaching the kids.    For Rebecca we used a curriculum that could be purchased in workbook form or digital.  We chose the computerized versions for a number of classes.  What I observed was that when the information was detailed and needed memorization (for example: dates and facts of history) it was hard to do on the computer.  Yes, we could highlight portions but it seemed more difficult to retain the specifics. Often we would print out chapters giving Rebecca the ability to highlight, circle and otherwise note things on the paper.  Maybe it was using another part of the brain?  It would make sense.  In college Rebecca had a similar experience when one of the science books was unavailable except as a download.  I don’t remember how many of the chapters she printed but I know we went through a lot of paper that semester.

One more example is my own experience when I do continuing education studies.  Done online I find myself, not reading the information, but instead looking for an answer.  Digital is great for doing key word searches.  But when done this way I’m not sure how much of the material I’ve retained.

We have also experienced the plus side of digital books.  I’m sure you, like me, remember history books that were outdated the moment they went to print. Today’s digital books can be updated with just a click.  In addition, it’s great to have thousands of books at your finger tips.  And, importantly, they cost less than paper texts and no more backache from carrying all those heavy books.  I also love that digital text books often have ability for videos and other interactive media.  Continued improvement of the text to speech readers is exciting.  Read aloud information may be processed better by auditory learners.

Looking back at pleasure reading might give more insight.  Do you love to wander through the library or book store just looking for the right book or would you rather pick a book based on a photo or description and download it for instant reading?  Does the idea of a dog eared paperback tucked in your back pocket for later reading get your attention or would you rather pull out your ebook reader and with a swish of your finger return to the last page you read?

Perhaps the question is more philosophical than anything.  What is the comfort level of the user?  Those of us who have grown up flipping pages and visually working our way through chapters may not want to make the switch (or do you?)  Kids who start with computers and now touch screen tablets may very well view all this differently. 

Still, I hate to think that paper books will become antiques like mimeographs.  What do you think?