What are our screens doing to us?

“what we are missing when we read on screen”

Digital Marketing
Digital Marketing

Our digital devices may have a detrimental effect on how we absorb and remember information.

Taking notes on your laptop or tablet in a meeting makes you more productive. Right? Maybe not.

Till now, the argument for those against digital in the boardroom has been simple; with an open screen, who isn’t tempted to check an email, do a little browsing, or have a quick look at that WhatsApp that’s just come in? With you not “fully there” your presence in the meeting is less productive – and not only for you, but also for your colleagues who are distracted by your on-screen flitting.

But until now the “for” and “against” arguments have been based on opinion and preference, not facts and research.

So it is with interest that I came across this research at the University of California. (# O’Callaghan, Mueller, New Scientist Vol 2993)

What we miss when we read on screens. The research compares the taking of notes by hand with those typed on a screen. Students who took notes by hand “understood the content of a lecture better and remembered more”.

Because we write more slowly than we can type, note-taking by hand forces us to select the ideas that matter instead of simply typing everything down that we hear. Mindlessly typing away may record more information, yes, but at a cost.

But are typed notes at least better for recall? At a test a week later, the longhand note takers still did better. “It suggests that if you didn’t understand it the first time, looking back over it later isn’t going to help much”.

And e-readers? At the University of Stavanger in Norway volunteers who read a mystery story in book form were nearly twice as good at putting the14 plot events in the right sequence as those who read it on an e-reader.

In another study, 145 students who read a tragic true story on an iPad instead of in a book were less likely to experience the emotion of empathy or “transportation – a sense of getting lost in the world of the story”.

There is of course the worry by educators and parents that online reading – with the distraction of links and flashing banners – is undermining our capacity to read deeply and more importantly, to understand deeply. Such worries have already spurred the formation of a “slow reading” movement.

But these are early findings caution the researchers – so much more research needs to be done. A major 4 year study, an EU initiative – The Evolution of Reading in the Age of Digitisation (E-READ) – involves researchers from 25 countries.

In the meantime I, for one, will continue to write my notes by hand – even if I often find my own writing illegible! And in terms of reading a good story in a book or on my e-reader – no question for me. Give me the smell and feel and weight of a real book every time.

Colleen Backstrom
Director of Kaleidoscope NeuroMarketing
Digital Marketing

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