Review: ‘Words Onscreen’ by Naomi Baron

9780199315765Naomi Baron’s book Words Onscreen is an exploration into the changing nature of reading. With the increasing use of eReaders many people are forgoing paper books. With this change, Baron asserts, comes a change in how we read, with reading onscreen linked to surface rather than contemplative reading. Words Onscreen is not only a fascinating read, as it details the history and science behind reading, but also an important read as it contemplates the future of reading and the various contexts it may exist in.

Reading for pleasure is good for children’s brains

Dr Alice Sullivan talks about her UK research exploring the benefits of recreational reading for cognition.

She explains “Of the 17,000 members, 6,000 took a range of cognitive tests at age 16. We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less. In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, both in vocabulary, spelling and mathematics. In fact, the impact was around four times greater than that of having a parent with a post-secondary degree.”

You can read more about her research here.

A nose for books

Reading books for pleasure has little appeal for smart phone fixated American teenagers, according to an article published in The New Yorker earlier this year. It’s not just the idea of reading that seems like a chore to millennials, according to David Denby, it’s that paper books have little appeal as objects. He quotes a school student from New Haven saying, ‘books smell like old people’. In contrast to this, a number of participants in the 2016 Australian Teen Reading survey discussed the sensory pleasure of holding a book in their hands and turning the pages. Unlike the New Haven youth who turned their nose up at the printed page, one of our participants said, ‘new books smell nice’. One of the foci of our research on teen reading in the digital era is reading as an embodied experience, so we will be analysing the survey responses over the next few months for insights into how touch, sight, sound and smell shape teenagers’ reading practices.

Re-thinking screen time

US publications such as Time and Forbes  are reporting on revisions of the American Academy of Pediatric’ guidelines for children and screens, in recognition of the growing variety of screens and the uses to which they’re now put. It is hard, reports Time, ‘for the AAP to say definitively … that playing smartphone games is bad and using educational tablets is good’. With a comment that will resonate with many of the teenagers in our survey, the AAP suggests parents keep an open mind: ‘Time spent in front of screens or devices isn’t inherently good or bad … Like everything else, it’s really about the content and how you engage with it’ (Time, Vol. 188, no. 19, 2016: 16).