Kindle, there may finally be some science to back you up.
The first thing one has to understand is that reading is not a
natural process for the human brain. Instead, it’s a technology that
we’ve cobbled together because of our natural ability in the area of
language, as well as our god-given visual acuity. While many skeptics of
e-Reader technology insist that reading the printed page is as natural
as breathing air, the fact of the matter is that humans have only really
been reading in great numbers for the last 500 some-odd years since the
printing press went into mainstream use. Whether consciously or not, we
developed the technology to fit around the way our brains process
A French neurological study on the subject of the human brain and reading
found that humans read best when the ventral visual system (the part of
the brain responsible for building a representation of the world
outside of the body), is stimulated by words displayed in a familiar
format. If words are represented in an unfamiliar way, a different,
slower pathway in the brain is activated that focuses on processing the
information from each letter individually.
So what does that mean? It’s possible that, for certain people, the
experience of reading on a computer screen is unfamiliar in the same way
that seeing letters jumbled or rotated is unfamiliar. They’re forced to
use that secondary ventral pathway to process the information they take
in, which means that it not only takes longer for them to understand
what they’re reading, but it can be more mentally taxing as well.
Combine that with the very human predilection to be distracted by all
the temptations of the Internet, and I think it’s easy to see why some
people observe that their digital reading experiences aren’t quite up to
the standard held by books.
That’s the rub. The very design of the e-Reader, the very intention
of the e-Ink technology, is to replicate that paper experience as
crisply as possible. There aren’t yet studies to support it, but for
many people who grew up with the printed page, the clarity of e-Ink is
enough to stimulate that primary ventral visual system, making reading
as smooth as possible. And indeed, for younger folks already accustomed
to reading on a screen, the e-Ink might not be necessary at all.
In my opinion, the biggest enemy of the eBook moving forward is companies like Apple, who are reportedly quite interested in getting into the e-Reader market.
While I don’t doubt their ability to produce a quality product, Apple’s
habit of trying to make do-it-all gadgets has me concerned that their
version of an e-Reader is going to focus on all the bells and whistles
instead of the literary experience. I fear that while I’m trying to read about how awesome Andrew Jackson was, it’ll be death by a million distractions, from Twitter updates, to instant messaging, to, heaven forbid, phone calls from Mom.
As long as e-Readers succeed at keeping the background noise to a
minimum, there’s no reason eBooks can be just as immersive as the
printed page. We’re likely never going to do away with books, for a
variety of reasons, but it’s not because eBooks don’t work. It’s just a
matter of whether we have the wherewithal to just sit down and pay