Think Education

Print vs. Screen


The first time I bought an e-book on Kindle, I was enchanted by the instantness of the transaction. While I have shifted more towards e-books, mainly for ease and convenience, I still prefer to read print books. With book stores being shut and people moving to e-readers, this is a good time to look at the pros and cons of each medium.

The physicality of a print book literally adds weight to the reading experience by providing sensory dimensions. The feel, look and even smell of dog-eared books are subconsciously processed, as we absorb their contents. You might have read an insightful paragraph or a particular line and often can recall where that line occurred. Further, we encountering the title and the author’s name each time we open/close the book helps consolidate our memory. As e-books simply open to the page you’re on, you don’t see the names often, making your memory of them shakier.

It is also easier to annotate on or scribble in the margin of print books. Of course, with e-books one can use key words to find a relevant topic. Yes, print books take up space and many bibliophiles reluctantly shift to e-books as their bookshelves grow crammed. The latter are great for travel; you can carry as many titles as you want without feeling the weight. But they need to be charged and you need access to Wi-Fi networks to buy new books.

While print books can be borrowed and lent, we cannot share our favourite e-books. Books that rely heavily on diagrams and illustrations are much more pleasurable to peruse in print. On the other hand, some photographic articles on news sites convey messages poignantly and are relatively inexpensive; whereas printed coffee-table books, though exquisite, can be a drain on the purse.

Additionally, though we may be sentimental about holding on to our favourite print books, they, like us, tend to age and wither with time. And, we can’t discount the fact that print books require more trees to be felled. E-books are also equipped with inbuilt dictionaries. A single tap is all it takes to find the meaning of an unfamiliar word. While staring at screens for a long time can be tiring for our eyes, we can toggle with the font to suit our comfort levels.

Skimming and scanning

When we read print books in English, our eyes move in saccades from left to right, and then back again as we move from line to line. In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr mentions that when we read online, we don’t necessarily read every line. Instead, our eyes trace the shape of the capital letter ‘F’. So, after reading the first couple of lines, we tend to skim and scan as we scroll down the page. As a result, reading researcher, Maryanne Wolf, bemoans in Reader, Come Home, that we are losing our ability to engage in “deep reading” wherein we absorb information with a razor-like focus, deciphering meaning, savouring words and engaging in a host of thought processes that help us comprehend the text.

While there are many pluses and minuses associated with each medium, the greatest disadvantage of e-readers is that they could erode our “deep reading” skills, especially if we rely solely on a skim-and-scan approach. In an article in Scientific American in April 2013, writer Ferris Jabr highlighted a number of research studies that suggest that our comprehension and long-term retention of material is slightly compromised when we read on screens. Apparently, the act of scrolling down a screen to find an answer in a comprehension passage is more taxing than looking for it on printed pages.

As both print and e-books have their share of advantages and drawbacks, we, as readers, may rely on both versions, depending on our purpose and other contextual factors. By making mindful choices, we can reap the benefits of both types.

The writer blogs at and her book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be released by Rupa Publications.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 8:14:13 AM |

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