I'm fascinated by this NBC news story I saw posted today on Facebook. Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University, surveyed more than 300 college students in the United States, Japan, Germany and Slovakia--now there's an interesting cross-section--and found that 92 percent of them prefer physical books to digital books.
This news gladdens my heart! (But is that the sentimental side of me talking?)
Lately I have been hauling my first-generation but still-functioning Kindle back and forth on the bus. It fits nicely in my backpack. It weighs almost nothing, even when I'm reading a big doorstopper of a book. I can find its nubby leather cover easily in my bag when I fish around for it. It keeps my place (usually). The battery lasts a long time. I can get e-galleys of books sent to it by publicists, and thus avoid the postage and the environmental burden of an Advance Reader Copy, which I will later recycle. I just finished reading Louise Erdrich's new novel, "LaRose," on yesterday's bus ride. This is probably a book I will want to buy for myself at some point, but for now it's nice not to have an ARC that I must dispose of.
And yet...and yet... I, too, prefer print. I'm sentimental about the feel of paper, the smell of bookstores, the existence of bookstores, the glowing, dusty presence of books lined up on wooden shelves in every room of my house.
I thought these feelings might be because I'm old, and maybe they are.
But this poll was of students, and the students feel the same way.
"There are two big issues," the professor told the New Republic. "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."
But also, she said, "They care about the smell of a book. ...There really is a physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading."
Students also noted that e-books are fine for casual reading but not for serious reading; I would agree. I could read Erdrich's book on my Kindle because I am not the person who will be reviewing it for the Strib; I read it out of interest but not with a serious critical eye. For reviewing, I need paper--paper that I can yellow highlight and slap post-it notes on and dog-ear the corners of pages.
Again, the students concur. The New Republic wrote: "When students were given a choice of various media—including hard copy, cell phone, tablet, e-reader, and laptop—92 percent said they could concentrate best in hard copy."
I'd love to hear your thoughts. E-book? I-pad? Physical book? Different devices for different reasons? And why?