The Way We E-Read: Do You Read Fast, Slow, More?

4 minute read
Marisa Peacock avatar

Are e-Readers changing the way we read? According to new research, it seems that it is. A study of 1,200 e-reader owners found that 40% read more than they did with print books.

e-Readers Increase Accessibility

The study, which aimed to look at the behaviors of owners of three devices: Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle, Apple Inc.'s iPad and the Sony Reader, also found that 55% intended to use the device to read even more books in the future.

In a web 2.0 (and evolving) world, it’s very convenient for naysayers and skeptics to say that the internet is decreasing the time spent reading books. But now, here in the future, e-Readers seem to have facilitated a rush to reading, reminiscent of olden days when you’d gather around the fireplace for story time.

Or maybe not.

But still, some 11 million Americans are expected to own at least one digital reading gadget by the end of September, or so predicts Forrester Research.Additionally, the Association of American Publishers estimates that e-book sales in the United States grew 183% in the first half of this year compared with the year-earlier period.

Lower prices and the availability of more book titles have helped increase sales, but anyone can buy a book -- the real challenge is actually reading it. But surveys have shown that people are in fact reading, just not by the fireside. It’s not that people have more time to read than before, it’s that they have more opportunities to read via e-Reader or mobile device than before. Whether it’s on the train, in a waiting room or yes, in a hot tub, as long as you have your smartphone or e-Reader handy, you have a book.

And it’s not just access to e-Readers that has us reading again. It’s the accessibility of interfaces that is making it easier. We can increase fonts size, highlight text and zoom in. Functionality alone, is reason enough for some to put down print in favor of eReaders.

Learning Opportunities

This is Your Brain on an eReader

However, there are still skeptics or at least those who worry that while we may be reading more, we’re not soaking in as much. According to Jonah Lehrer at Wired.com, though digital books make content easier and easier to see, "It could actually backfire with books.” He worries that:

We will trade away understanding for perception. The words will shimmer on the screen, but the sentences will be quickly forgotten.

In his article The Future of Reading, he studies how reading the printed word in actual print makes our brain work, explaining that:

…the act of reading observes a gradient of awareness. Familiar sentences printed in Helvetica and rendered on lucid e-ink screens are read quickly and effortlessly. Meanwhile, unusual sentences with complex clauses and smudged ink tend to require more conscious effort, which leads to more activation in the dorsal pathway. All the extra work – the slight cognitive frisson of having to decipher the words – wakes us up.

His solution? A feature that makes reading a little more difficult so as to force us to slow down and contemplate the meaning of words. His wish may have already come true, in a way. According to usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, iPad readers were 6.2% slower and Kindle readers were 10.7% slower at reading compared to print readers. Though the slowness is likely the result of screen technology, at least it’s a start.

Digital books are definitely influencing how, what and when we read. And even if you doubt the longevity of e-Readers, it’s still nice to know that, for now, one’s access to books is better than before.