Gina Mei
February 05, 2016 5:10 pm
Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

Ever since the launch of the e-reader, luddites and technophiles have viciously fought over whether physical books or their electronic counterparts make for the better read. (For what it’s worth, I prefer the former — but greatly value my Kindle when I’m on a crowded train at 8AM in the morning.)

But given all the fuss over which form of reading is superior, very little research has actually gone towards figuring out society’s preference between the two. In her new book Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, however, American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron plans to change that.

In Words Onscreen, Professor Baron conducted a study of over 300 students across multiple universities in the United States, Germany, Japan, and Slovakia and found that most people still prefer reading books the old-fashioned way. When given a choice of multiple methods of reading — e-reader, tablet, laptop, cell phones, etc. — a staggering 92% of students surveyed said they can best focus when they’re reading a physical copy.

“There are two big issues,” Baron told New Republic in an interview. “The first was they say they get distracted, pulled away to other things. The second had to do with eye strain and headaches and physical discomfort.”

Baron also cited students’ frustration that they couldn’t track how far into a book they were with a digital copy, and that they had trouble remembering details in the same way they would when reading it on a page. While Baron goes on to explain that reading comprehension is about the same between students using hard and digital copies, the process of reading itself is simply more enjoyable when there’s something tangible in front of you.

More than that, reading a physical copy is a sensory experience: 1 in 10 students in Slovakia cited the smell of books as a reason for preferring physical copies. As Baron explains, there’s a “physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading” an actual book — and “people are more likely to re-read if they have a book in hard copy.”

For now, it looks like books are here to stay, and we’re glad to hear it. But regardless of which method of reading you prefer, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you’re reading at all — and we think that’s something both luddites and technophiles can both agree on.

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