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on screen reading and book reading…

September 4, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

805 begins next week and in an effort to staunch the flow of panic I’ve been feeling all summer, I’ve begun chipping away at the course reading. It’s interesting stuff and as with the 804 pre-reads…my curiosity is very much engaged.

One thing I have noticed and indeed what’s prompted me to write this post has very little to do with the messages I have been reading and everything to do with the medium. For the first time this year I’m doing a significant amount of reading in a physical textbook as opposed to reading digital articles or even a digital edition of a text. As I said, the content itself is interesting but in many ways the whole experience feels oddly isolated.

Sure I can read in public places and even read aloud passages and then discuss with those around me but…it just feels so different than the process I’ve been engaged with over the last many months and called “reading”.

I’ve spent most of this year (and indeed my time as a doctoral student) reading on a screen in a fairly non-linear manner—looking up info about authors as I go, linking to other articles references, looking up unfamiliar words, referencing Twitter, watching videos. My process feels part word decoding/traditional “reading” and part archeology…with a generous twist of wandering built in. The interface of my computer makes these shifts seamless and though I can get sidetracked, the distractions often prove serendipitous. While I could do all these things simply by opening my computer next to my book…it feels cumbersome and almost like I’m cheating on my book to not give it my full attention.

It’s interesting to think about why I do what I do when reading on screen and when this shift happened. I spent my undergrad studying art history thus was steeped deep in physical books and then did a masters in graphic design thus was steeped in making artifacts, primarily using screen-based methods. Perhaps now as I work on my doctorate the two worlds are beginning to merge? Or perhaps I’m at a point where I’m still trying to figure many things out thus favor a more fragmented approach to on-boarding information? Perhaps the analog format of the book itself is subtly corralling my wandering mind while the screen is beckoning me to explore?

I doubt there is one reason or answer but it’s been an interesting meta bit of reflection on my own learning process and particularly on just what I tend to mean when I say I’m “reading.”

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