Reading Is Fun And Mental, Duh
by Michael A. Maynard
March 19, 2015

Using computers and cell phones to read a book is not as beneficial as reading the hard copy book. But the United States Department of Education is hellbent on providing more computers and electronic devices to students.

This stately building, The North Adams Public Library,  is where I checked out my first book.

The North Adams Public Library

The North Adams Public Library

In 1884, the town of North Adams voted to create a $2,500 trust fund for the creation of a public library located in the Davenport Block on Main Street. In 1896, the first mayor of North Adams, Albert Houghton, purchased the former residence of Samuel Blackinton and gave it to the town as a memorial for Houghton’s brother, Andrew Jackson Houghton. In 1898, as befitting the largest town in the United States, the new, modern North Adams Public Library was opened. For the first time, a catalogue of books is made available to the public. The patrons of the library are allowed to wander through the book shelves to find the books they will check out to read.

I remember being in awe of the Houghton Library the first time I visited it, when I was 4 years old. I walked through the downstairs and upstairs aisles amazed at how many books were available. As I left the library with my mother, I remember crying because I could not have enough time to read all the books inside. I still feel this way whenever I visit a library.

Often I get asked, because of the diversity of topics and the amount of research I do to write articles, that I must do a lot of reading. My answer is “Yes, I do and no, I don’t”. I have a lot of interests: current domestic and international events, politics, history, science, technology, sports, business and entertainment. I have my own bookcases full of books, most of which I’ve read. Some books are used frequently as reference materials. Too many are books I want to read, but have not started reading. One of the good things about is that I can obtain books quickly and have them delivered to my home. One of the bad things about is that it is way too easy for me to purchase books that I have an interest in reading, but then make it to my list of unread, unopened books. Currently, I have a list of 10 books I want and need to read.

“50 Shades of Grey” notwithstanding, as a nation, we are reading far fewer books than we did only 25 years ago.
PercentofAmercainsWhoDonT ReadBooks

And those who did read books read fewer books than 25 years ago.
Number Of Books Read 1978-2014

Our friends at Pew Research have determined that seniors are less likely to read books. But they should.

Number Of Books Read By Age

Number Of Books Read By Age

In addition to learning and to the joy and pleasure of reading a book, there are many reasons why it is beneficial to read books.

Reading a book can reduce stress.

A study by the University of Sussex (U.K.) states that reading a book for 6 minutes each day can reduce stress by up to 68%. Cognitive Neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, who conducted the study, states:

Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation….

This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism…

It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination…

This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness…

Reading a book improves your cognitive functioning as you age.

A study by Dr. Robert Wilson and Dr. Patricia Boyle, et al, concluded reading and other forms of cognitive activities stops or slows cognitive decline as you age.

Methods:  On enrollment, older participants in a longitudinal clinical-pathologic cohort study rated late-life (i.e., current) and early-life participation in cognitively stimulating activities. After a mean of 5.8 years of annual cognitive function testing, 294 individuals had died and undergone neuropathologic examination. Chronic gross infarcts, chronic microscopic infarcts, and neocortical Lewy bodies were identified, and measures of β-amyloid burden and tau-positive tangle density in multiple brain regions were derived….

Conclusions: More frequent cognitive activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline that is independent of common neuropathologic conditions, consistent with the cognitive reserve hypothesis.

And helps ward off Alzheimer’s Disease

Chess, jigsaw puzzles and other mentally challenging activities may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, a study published today says.

The new research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found elderly people who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2 ½ times less likely to have the debilitating illness, which affects 4 million Americans.

The study’s main author, Dr. Robert Freidland, claims people who don’t exercise their gray matter stand a chance of losing brain power…..

The study found Alzheimer’s patients did less of every activity except watching TV.

Television might even be a risk factor for the disease, the report concluded….

Earlier research has found that the degenerative brain disorder is slower to appear and develop among people who are in intellectually demanding professions.

The number of Americans afflicted by Alzheimer’s is expected to soar to 14 million by 2050, as the general population ages.

Damn those Kardashians!

And you just remember more of what you have read

From Professor Julie Sedivy in Discover Magazine:

A growing body of research shows that the same information can trigger very different thoughts depending on the cognitive goals that people have in mind. Readers can be instructed to create vivid imagery or to learn over time to make deeper inferences, both of which lead to better retention of the material they’ve read. And when readers are told to form an impression of people they’re reading about rather than to read for the purpose of memorizing the text, they organize the information from the text less haphazardly and are able to recall more of it.

Cognitive goals can also be unintentionally triggered by cues that never even enter a reader’s awareness. So, just as people can be told to form an impression of a character they read about, they can also be prompted to unconsciously pursue the same goal. In one study, researchers asked people to unscramble sentences that contained words like evaluate, judgment, and personality before reading excerpts about a character. In another, these words were subliminally flashed at subjects before they took part in the reading task. In both of these studies, simply seeing words related to the goal of character assessment affected readers in much the same way as asking them explicitly to judge character.

 But with the advent of larger cell phones,  electronic reading devices, tablet computers and laptop computers, more reading is being done electronically.

E-Reading Versus Paper Books

E-Reading Versus Paper Books

But readers absorb less reading from Kindles and IPods than reading from paper.

The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month and set to be published as a paper, gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings.

Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, thought academics might “find differences in the immersion facilitated by the device, in emotional responses” to the story. Her predictions were based on an earlier study comparing reading an upsetting short story on paper and on iPad. “In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,” said Mangen.

But instead, the performance was largely similar, except when it came to the timing of events in the story. “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”

The researchers suggest thatthe haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does”.

“When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,” said Mangen. “You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual … [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.”

Mangen also pointed to a paper published last year, which gave 72 Norwegian 10th-graders texts to read in print, or in PDF on a computer screen, followed by comprehension tests. She and her fellow researchers found that “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally”.

And students want textbooks, not e-books.

Dr. Silas Marques de Oliveira of Andrews University did something unusual. He actually asked students which did they prefer: textbooks or e-books?

This paper presents the results of a large scale survey designed to investigate usage patterns of and attitudes towards e-books by students at Andrews University. One important aspect which the study investigated is how the use of e-books impacts student’s learning. The subjects were divided into two different groups, namely, (1) students who purchased the electronic version of an e-textbook for a class (the bookstore offered 74 books in an electronic format), and (2) students who had the opportunity of purchasing the electronic version of a textbook but preferred the traditional print format. Only four percent of the population studied opted to use an e-textbook.

The print version is still greatly preferred by college students. However, the majority of those who used e-textbooks, would use it again and would recommend it to a friend. Lack of awareness, not knowing how to get it, eyestrain, and difficulty of reading are the culprits for students not using ebooks more often. Although it is possible to note an increase of e-books usage, caution is recommended when developing collection development policies when includes e-books

Why is this?

Maybe it’s the way our brains are wired.

“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”

Some of these repurposed brain regions are specialized for object recognition—they are networks of neurons that help us instantly distinguish an apple from an orange, for example, yet classify both as fruit. Just as we learn that certain features—roundness, a twiggy stem, smooth skin—characterize an apple, we learn to recognize each letter by its particular arrangement of lines, curves and hollow spaces. Some of the earliest forms of writing, such as Sumerian cuneiform, began as characters shaped like the objects they represented—a person’s head, an ear of barley, a fish. Some researchers see traces of these origins in modern alphabets: C as crescent moon, S as snake. Especially intricate characters—such as Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji—activate motor regions in the brain involved in forming those characters on paper: The brain literally goes through the motions of writing when reading, even if the hands are empty. Researchers recently discovered that the same thing happens in a milder way when some people read cursive.

There are other possible reasons. A 2004 study found that students more fully remembered what they’d read on paper. Those results were echoed by an experiment that looked specifically at e-books, and another by psychologist Erik Wästlund at Sweden’s Karlstad University, who found that students learned better when reading from paper books.

Wästlund followed up that study with one designed to investigate screen reading dynamics in more detail. He presented students with a variety of on-screen document formats. The most influential factor, he found, was whether they could see pages in their entirety. When they had to scroll, their performance suffered.

According to Wästlund, scrolling had two impacts, the most basic being distraction. Even the slight effort required to drag a mouse or swipe a finger requires a small but significant investment of attention, one that’s higher than flipping a page. Text flowing up and down a page also disrupts a reader’s visual attention, forcing eyes to search for a new starting point and re-focus.

Scrolling “took a lot of mental resources that could have been spent comprehending the text instead,” said Wästlund. Like being distracted when memorizing a phone number, scrolling’s interruptions knocked information from short-term memory. That’s the basic level of information processing, laying a foundation for long-term memories and knowledge.”

But the Department of Education’s push is to increase the number of computers in the classroom, not to increase the number of or improve the quality of textbooks. An article in Time Magazine boldly proclaims, “The Paperless Classroom Is Coming”.

At issue was far more than penmanship. The future of K-12 education is arriving fast, and it looks a lot like Mr. G’s classroom in the northern foothills of California’s wine country. Last year, President Obama announced a federal effort to get a laptop, tablet or smartphone into the hands of every student in every school in the U.S. and to pipe in enough bandwidth to get all 49.8 million American kids online simultaneously by 2017. Bulky textbooks will be replaced by flat screens. Worksheets will be stored in the cloud, not clunky Trapper Keepers. The Dewey decimal system will give way to Google. “This one is a big, big deal,” says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

It’s a deal Gudenius has been working to realize for years. He doesn’t just teach with a computer on every student’s desk; he also tries to do it without any paper at all, saving, by his own estimate, 46,800 sheets a year, or about four trees. The paperless learning environment, while not the goal of most fledgling programs, represents the ultimate result of technology transforming the classroom.

And like most of what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has proposed, providing students with computers is part of the solution, but it’s not the or an effective solution to improving the quality of education. The issue about the effectiveness of replacing books with technology has already been decided. Paper books are better.

The debate between paper books and e-readers has been vicious since the first Kindle came out in 2007. Most arguments have been about the sentimental versus the practical, between people who prefer how paper pages feel in their hands and people who argue for the practicality of e-readers. But now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books. 

Yes, it is a big deal for American children to develop computer skills. But more important is to increase their levels of comprehension and understanding. Computer technology is a tool for learning, but a computer does not replace learning or teaching the ability to read and think. Pay teachers, keep the schools open more days and longer days, and provide real textbooks, not e-books, to the students. Yes, it costs a little more to do that, but not to do that puts the US at economic and national security risks in the future. We can afford it and we cannot not afford it, if the monies are being spent effectively. As a nation, we are spending more while falling behind other nations.

U.S. Students Scores Vs. International Students

U.S. Students Scores Vs. International Students

U.S. Schools Spending Versus Student's Performance

U.S. Schools Spending Versus Student’s Performance

As someone who has worked in the information technology industry for 30+ years, the idea of getting rid of paper is a non-starter. Computers were supposed to replace paper in the office, remember? As I look around my office, it’s not happening. It’s not going to happen in the classroom and, more importantly, it shouldn’t happen in the classroom.

Reading is fun. Reading is also a mental activity and a skill. Like all skills, the more you read, the greater likelihood that you improve your reading skills and the more you become capable of learning. Reading is the central component of any educational system. Make reading fun and interesting for the students to improve their mental capacity and capabilities. Reading on a Kindle or another computing/electronic device does not do that.

Don’t bring them into the classroom. Duh……

(Oh, yes. And teach kids how to write in cursive lettering, too.)

Copyright © February 2015, Michael A. Maynard, Stow, Massachusetts.

Please feel free to leave comments below. Also, if you’ve found this article interesting and informative, please pass it along to others, especially those with a lot of inherent biases.

For more of my articles, visit my WordPress site:


Paper Books Vs. Electronic Devices

Paper Books Vs. Electronic Devices

Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.Development and Copy Editor for 4 commercially published books.

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