Is it hard to remember what you read on an e-book?

Is it hard to remember what you read on an e-book? This report from Time magazine suggests it is. My experience is the same. I also find it harder to concentrate and I tire faster than when reading paper.

Like the Time reporter, at first I put this down to aging. Then I noticed the same problems don’t occur with print.

Time offers scientific evidence students learn better from paper than from e-books. There’s also evidence sub-editors pick up more errors when reading paper than when looking at the same copy on an electronic screen. Some, including Mrs B, prefer to print material for serious subbing even though publishers now frown on the practice.

Although it doesn’t bother me for most types of writing, I find it easy to deal with complex written material when it is printed on paper. And even more so when attempting to read foreign languages. This doesn’t matter for graphics.

What do you think?

Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read? | TIME.com.

6 thoughts on “Is it hard to remember what you read on an e-book?

  1. I’ve always felt as if my comprehension and retention were less when reading digitally versus print. Interesting

    • I read a lot of fiction. About once a month I pick a serious non-fiction book and attempt to learn something fresh – particle physics, the fall of the Roman Empire, Napoleonic Wars, 20th century politics and so on. My experience says it’s a waste of time and money to attempt this using anything other than paper. I simply can’t read as much, understand as much or remember as much.

      Years ago I researched this topic and came across a scientist who found the problem is resolution. He said the human brain has to devote more capacity to processing digital type than print and that leaves less for understanding. I can’t find the source, but it seems plausible to me.

      • Are you using an e-ink or a backlit tablet? The resolution of type on my Kindle looks as good or better than than most printed type. The contrast is not quite as good, but overall I can’t see how it’s harder to read. I bet the earlier research was based on computer screens with far lower resolution than either my Kindle or my Nexus tablet.

        • I agree, John: the resolution of e-ink on a Kindle is optically indistinguishable from ink on paper – although the writer of the ‘Time’ article claims to be basing her experience on using a Kindle. That isn’t to suggest that what we think we’re seeing is exactly analogous with what our brains are processing. It may be, as Bill suggests, that the brain is using additional ‘bandwidth’ to decipher characters in e-ink – although I’ve read paperbacks on grainy old post-war paper that were lower resolution than any e-book. If I think about it for long enough I might even remember the names of the books and their protagonists.

  2. I can see how this would apply to any device with a backlit screen and, like your Mrs B, I prefer to print out anything to subedit it before submission. But these days I do a lot of copy-editing on my Kindle screen, either formatting stories or articles as an e-book or, if I can’t be bothered with that, just sending a Word document to my Kindle’s email address and then making notes on the Kindle II keyboard and highlighting passages I want to change.

    The other question – about whether you remember words on paper better than something you’ve read in an e-book – is a more interesting (and subjective) one. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s certainly possible that because everything you read in an e-book has a generic look and feel to it that it’s less memorable than the physical artefact of a paper book. That loss of character, of individuality, the grain of the paper and so on, may come to be important failings of e-books in their present form.

    But I don’t find it any more difficult to concentrate when reading on a Kindle. I enjoy the Kindle reading experience as much as I do reading paper books, although for different reasons.

  3. I haven’t noticed if I remember more or less from an ebook. I’d need to do comparative comprehension tests.

    But as far as getting tired quicker compared with a paper book is concerned, it depends on whether I’m reading e-ink or a back-lit screen.

    My eyes don’t tire faster on my e-ink Kindle. I’m reading a lot more, and for longer periods, because I like it so much better than reading a traditional book.

    But my eyes definitely tire quicker on my backlit iPad and Nexus 7 tablets. (With the Nexus 7’s sharper screen being significantly less tiring than my iPad 1.)

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