In the enthusiasm for digital publishing and e-ink devices, such as the Kindle, the relative advantages of using old fashioned paper books has been lost. While there is nothing magical about paper, the tangible, physical object that is a book creates a space interaction that involves a broader array of human perceptive and cognitive systems than imagined. Communicating, as Ong taught us, can be a whole body experience. Despite the fact that the shift from oral to written communication narrowed the bandwidth needed to convey thoughts, reading is still shaped by more than the mere contact our eyes makes with the letters. Gestures and handling the object we read from are still important, as they trigger embodied methods of perception and cognition. Humans cognition is not a purely mental information decoding process, but a complex mechanism of storing, interpreting, and manipulating patterns and states of consciousness that require inputs and actuation of memory systems through a variety of senses, including kinestetic and synesthetic channels. Cognitive scientists, such as Judith Thompson from Sheffield University, advocate for a major shift in our approach to understanding reading…
Studies have shown that close links exist between gesture and cognition. These links are little-studied in the context of reading, but are very much a part of writing, which similarly involves constructing mental models of text.
“Especially for those of us with lots of traditional book exposure, we use physical pages as anchors for deep comprehension,” said cognitive scientist Judith Thomson of Sheffield University. Thomson describes reading comprehension as having several levels: individual words and sentences, which should be equivalent on screen and paper, and ultimately the larger narrative structure they build.
Keeping that structure in mind allows for richer comprehension, weaving themes and threads of thoughts into insight, and for some people, this may be easier with paper. “E-paper takes away this comprehension prop to some degree,” Thompson said, “which I think could have subtle impacts for many people, at least until their reading system learns to adapt.”