Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Touching books with your hands

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A few years ago, I argued with a friend that digital books would replace paper books. I was wrong.

The fact that my short publishing experiences were only on digital versions on Amazon played an important role in shaping my opinion. I wanted people to buy my books after all, right? First, it wasn’t working, and second, I had a problem. I couldn’t stand watching at a digital screen without feeling a bit of a headache and my eyes began to partially blur.

In an article on Scientific American, Dina Maron, an investigative reporter, says ” People peering for hours into a screen tend to blink less often and have tears that evaporate more quickly, which dries out the eye and can cause blurred vision or pain.” You can adjust your screening habits to avoid drying your eyes so often, but it wasn’t the eyes alone that changed how I felt about digital vs paper books.

In another article, columnist Ferris Jabr summarizes the main point of the difference between reading in a screen and paper, saying that ” whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.” And then quotes developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf, who wrote Reader, Come Home – The Reading Brain in a Digital World, that “there is physicality in reading.”

The experience we have when we touch a book is different than scrolling throughout a screen. It might be a cultural evolution as we get used and grow in this digital age. But as food doesn’t taste if you can’t smell it, so with books, touching and smelling them, and feeling their weight is part of the reading experience.

I guess in time we’ll find the right balance between reading in digital format and when to read in the paper as part of our cultural evolution. Meanwhile, I’m reading more on paper than I thought. How about you?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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