What do teens think about reading on digital devices?

The Teen Reading study asked a number of questions about young people’s reading preferences and experiences, in both “open fields” in our survey and in interviews. Teens were able to tell us in their own words about how they felt about  reading in general and about reading long form texts using digital platforms. An interim, single researcher coding of the question “How do you feel about reading on digital devices?” yielded the following breakdown:

  • Around 63% said that they preferred reading paper books, or that they disliked reading on digital devices
  • Around 12-13% leaned towards paper books but had some positive things to say about eReading on devices

“I like reading real books in my hand … but with eBooks on small devices, I can carry multiple books easily without worrying about bending pages in my bag…”

  • Around 12% preferred eBooks, mainly because they found it easier to search for them, or felt that it was easier to get hold of them free of charge

“I read a lot on devices because it is easier than having to buy every book you read”

  • Around 13% didn’t provide an answer or said that they really didn’t like reading at all.



It hurts my eyes (but only when reading)

iPads and other LCD tablets are widely used in educational settings. They are ‘do it all’ devices which can perform many functions. They can be cameras, music players, web browsers, as well as displaying text word processing or notetaking software, or in book apps such as Kindle, iBooks, Wattpad, BorrowBox, and so on.

Tablets are great for research, gameplay, recording and creating content, as well as being platforms for reading. Their responsive touch-screen interface is intuitive enough for even toddlers to use them for animated video and simple games. On the other hand, eReaders such as the Kindle, Sony eReader, and Kobo, are single function devices – they are meant simply to read on!

Adolescents participating in the Teen Reading survey were much more likely to have regular access to a tablet rather than an eReader. Many of the comments made by teens highlighted their iPad/Tablet’s attractiveness for playing games on, but also indicated that they used their tablet in both recreational and school settings.

But when asked about barriers to reading more on devices, those with access to a dedicated eReader were half as likely to report eyestrain than tablet users.

This is probably because eReaders use electronic ink, specifically designed to mimic the appearance of print on paper, and studies have shown that they are perceived by adult users to be as readable as print. They reflect ambient light rather than emitting light. On the other hand, iPads use backlighting as a screen technology. They look very much like computer and video screens, and emit light waves which, as with other kinds of screens, has been associated with visual fatigue.

Perhaps the added dynamism and different eye-tracking movements required by linear media and gameplay allows users to ignore that tiredness more readily than when reading!

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).

Associate Professor Andrew Singleton

Andrew Singleton joined our group in October 2016. Primarily a sociologist of religion, Andrew has worked on projects on young people’s spirituality. He is also skilled in both quantitative and qualitative research methods and mixed methods. We’re very happy that he’s agreed to join the Teen Reading project.