Digital Media’s Effect on Reading

Updated June 28, 2021

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Digital Media’s Effect on Reading essay

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Suppose that, all the books in existence was digitized and subsequently destroyed afterwards. Sure, it might sound great at first when you think about all the paper that would be saved assuming we no longer printed books. On top of this, books are just so heavy and cumbersome as well as just being a pain to deal with at times. However, losing our books would become more of a hindrance and would be more destructive than beneficial. It is here that I would like to present a case for why paper reading is still as important if not more-so than digital reading.

With the advancements continuingly ongoing in our digital age, reading information off a screen is an ever-present occurrence. Even now in schooling, digital media has already begun to overtake traditional means of learning that was paper reading. However, research is being done into the effects digital media is having on us at a fundamental level. In the paper Don’t throw away your printed books: A meta-analysis on the effects of reading media on reading comprehension; the authors go into detail with their study between the differences between print media and digital media.

Using graphs and statistics alongside other forms of media; the paper ends in a conclusion stating the following; “In conclusion, digital-based reading is an unavoidable part of our daily lives and an integral part of the education realm. Although the current results suggest paper-based reading should be favored over digital-based reading, it is unrealistic to recommend avoiding digital devices.”

In the article Digital vs. Print: Reading Comprehension and the Future of the Book written by M. Julee Tanner, the author goes into detail about reading comprehension across three media platforms; e-readers, books, and finally books downloaded onto devices such as computers or phones. With advances in e-reader technology the author explains how optically, e-paper has been shown to be equivalent to print. Still, the subjects in the various experiments still preferred the feel and physicality of a book and would only use an e-reader or e-book if “convenience and portability are at a premium.” (9)

The biggest offender according to the research presented by the author, was LCD screens and the way text were presented on it. Tanner’s research contributed that most mediums with LCD screens allowed for easier distractions and claimed that following a hyper link could potentially cause confusion in a reader, taking away from the reading experience. Julee Tanner states in their conclusion; “As this article demonstrates, print books are still the best suited to the optical, cognitive, and metacognitive requirements of the reading brain.” (9)

Next, we look to the book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World written by Maryanne Wolf. Wolf, who also wrote the book Proust and the Squid, “considers the future of the reading brain and our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies.” (Taken from Reader, Come Home description. Unsure how to cite correctly, please advise.) Wolf also explains to us how she has also fallen victim to the way digital media has changed the way we read by supplying us with an experiment she tried herself using an old book that she once read when she was younger.

During her experiment, Wolf found it difficult to read the book, often becoming frustrated and easily agitated. Only by breaking up her reading of the book in 20-minute segments was she able to finally finish the book again, and it then took Wolf some time longer to be able to read as she had used to before getting accustomed to the new style of reading that digital media has given us. Styles such as only reading for information versus pleasure or for a deeper understanding of the material in front of us.

This is not to say that digital media is evil, in fact digital media does bring with it benefits that traditional means of print simply cannot compare to. Digital media, such as e-books, are cheaper to purchase than it is to buy a physical book. This is in part due to the overall costs needed to produce and transport physical copies of a book to a retail location. In this regard, it is also faster to obtain digital media than a physical copy.

Gone are the days when you need to visit a book store or wait for a mail delivery when a person can simply click a few links and begin a download to their device of choice. The other side to this is the environmental impact that printed media is associated with. Between ink, the resources needed to harvest/recycle the paper needed for books and the pollution generated by transportation, digital media will leave a smaller carbon footprint than its physical counterpart.

However, what happens once power is disconnected, or a device is drained of power and is shut off? Imagine a reader getting so involved into their book that they forget about the devices power situation and it shuts off. For some, I would imagine that a scenario like this would be rather frustrating. If they had a book, the reader could have easily continued to finish the book without the interruption and without the need of a pesky wire always getting in the way if they happen to be reading on a phone, or other device that uses such. On a related note, reading on a computer screen for extended periods of time tends to be exhausting not only to the reader, but to their eyes as well. It is for this reason that companies have been working to create better e-papers and e-inks that will mimic that of printed media.

Until further advancements and research is done to increase the effectiveness of the way digital media is presented to readers, traditional print should not be so quickly phased out. Research into the matter demonstrates that printed media is still the desired medium for teaching as it permits deep reading, and higher cognition over a digital medium. Besides, nothing beats the smell of a new book, or an old book that has since been forgotten about.


  1. Pablo Delgado, Cristina Vargas, Rakefet Ackerman, Ladislao Salmerón. “Don’t throw away your printed books: A meta-analysis on the effects of reading media on reading comprehension.” Online Educational Research Review https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2018.09.003
  2. Tanner, M. J. (2014). Digital vs. print: Reading comprehension and the future of the book.SLIS Student Research Journal, 4(2). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/slissrj/vol4/iss2/6
  3. Wolf, Maryanne. “Reader, Come Home.” Harper, 17 Aug. 2018
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