Does a book or an e-reader do it for your angular gyrus?

My angular what? That was my question, too. But what other name would you give to the critical brain part required for the processing of auditory, visual input and comprehension of language that we do? Of course you’d call it an angular gyrus.

I found out about the angular gyrus doing some follow-up reading on a recent Europe-wide study into the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

Digitisation of the reading experience? I had a gut-wrenching reaction along the lines of, ‘that’s that thing that is dead to me’, and ‘omg, I can’t believe they are persisting with that’, and ‘wait – what isn’t digitised these days?’  and realised that I must immediately involve/ annoy/ harass/ pester as many of my family and friends into exploring this as I could. I conducted a snap-poll, and asked where they all stood on The Big Question: Book or eReader? (with a kicker follow-up: ‘And Why?’)

Of the thirty who took part in my clearly comprehensive survey, ten admitted to preferring an eReader. I was shocked to find this out. Some of these are my closest friends, beloved family members. How did this happen? On pinning two of these down, however, they said they actually prefer books, and only confessed to using eReaders because of their trades. pile of boooks for articleAvid readers, they use the downtime between jobs to read, a sure way to quickly trash your book. Today’s phone/device cover technology makes an eReader a logical choice. So I let them off.

For the remaining eight, convenience was the decisive factor – email, calendar, games, internet were already conveniently co-located on the device, so using it to read books was just logical. That it’s easy to hold, read and flip pages was also a draw card and being able to change the font-size, use the in-built dictionary features combined with easy access to so many books makes it oh-so-wonderful. I thought that perhaps age might be a factor, but interestingly, and with the exception of the tradies, the age range of the pro-eReaders fell on either side of 17 and 38. Just not in the middle.

Researchers looking for differences in the way eReader readers and book readers connect to a story didn’t actually find too many (damn – robbed me of a much-coveted I-told-you-so). What they did find, however, were differences in who was able to recount the order of events in the story correctly. The book readers could; it was harder to order the events of a story if read on a device. Anne Mangen, of Norway’s Stavanger University, and one of the lead researchers on the study, noted that a book gives a ‘tactile sense of progress’, and provides the reader with ‘support for mental reconstruction of a story’.

‘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.’

(Really. If I were that kind of person, here is where I would say, ‘I told you so.’)

Pro-bookers in my survey agree with these findings, giving this as one of their reasons for taking the book over the eReader. Like the pro-book people, I equate this experience as being physically connected with and immersed in the story. A book is a shield against Thakur Dharamsi’s goondas, it can catch the ragged tears for Katherine Clifton. I have a deeper experience of the story, and it stays with me for longer. I am there. Susan Reynolds, author of Fire Up Your Writing Brain, notes the importance of immersive reading in her article about What You Read Matters More Than You Might Think.

And yes, there were other, and very practical reasons cited for choosing a book over an eReader: the fact that a book won’t break if dropped; a book never freezes, or runs out of power; a book is a welcome break from technology. But over half the pro-bookers talked about loving books, loving the smell, the feel of the paper, remembering who gave them the book, where the book had been before it got to them, where it had travelled with them and what they got out reading the story…books evoke a deep and emotional connection.

I still talk to all the eReaders that suddenly emerged from the shadows in my life, but I am satisfied that their angular gyri will be ok. I could almost envy them – they don’t have to dust any bookshelves. But when this digitisation fad grinds to a halt (!), my book collection will be here, enduring.

Sigh. Well. I can only hope.



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