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Book Readers’ Intermingling Paper and Screen

Wednesday, December17, 2014
Submitted by Gary Frost
Paper and Screen
Generic distinctions between a screen and paper display (of the same image) include the recto/verso (duplex) and left/right (spread) attributes of paper and the persistence and accuracy of navigation of those features. Further complexity of the multiple display navigation is presented in book format (again same content for both paper and screen display). In books navigation of expositions and discovery are eased in paper with haptic manipulation and in screen with dexterity of touch. A contended factor in book format is cognitive navigation and mapping attributes as used in reading where studies favor paper.

Readability qualities of comparative paper/screen display technologies should also be considered. Resolution is mediated by the adaptability of eyesight and factors such as ambient light level. More intolerant are factors such as line length where browser defaults violate a ten word limit. Purely archival or retrieval and access comparisons vary with reading agendas and can skew either to paper or screen.

Debate over differences between screen books and paper books share features with comparative debates generally. Aside from contest between dispositions pro and con and ambivalent outcomes, there is also the strange, complementary fulfillment inherent in binaries at first imagined as opposites. For example, debate between screen and paper books shares aspects of debate over walkable and drivable cities.[1]

While the health benefits of walking are known, the attributes of car travel are also obvious. Municipal accommodations and infrastructure for both modes is frequently conflicted but an active management of both is needed. Older cities built before the advent of the automobile are better able to straddle the needs for walking and driving. Sprawling suburbs dominated from the start by driving and car parking find pedestrian activity more difficult to re-establish.

The metaphor is apparent. Paper books and screen books can better co-exist and complement each other within more complex and mature reading infrastructures. Walking is still needed and engages our embodied capacities; we evolved to walk rather than to drive. The same contrast is less obvious with contrast between paper and screen book reading, but there is comparative difference considered as embodied capacity. There was a long period of dominance of the paper book, but the transition should not be to dominance of the screen book. Likewise, a conversion of physically active cognitive skills should not be converted with innocent compliance to sedentary viewing. Attractions and attributes of connected living and computer skills can be integrated to complement print books.

The larger agenda of book use or city mobility should engage the community in a variety of composite and complementary infrastructures. Both paper and screen books have advanced with digital technologies. They should also advance together as cognitive tools.

For bibliographers, there is an allure in wider comparative studies since books are only a small component of culture transmission, even though books are a transactional commodity for all the other sectors. Pedestrian proficiency, for example, is deeply embedded as a culture transmission mechanism including a legacy of embodied mobility that triggered our further speciation in the wake of primate dexterity. We actually wandered through the whole planet. Surprisingly, this long legacy of walking is well described in books including even saga equivalents of paleo or pre-historical trekking.[2]

Food production stories are also a deep culture transmission mode. This is an Iowa narrative contrasting agro industry, row crop production contrasted with family food gardening. Again, perhaps food production narrative can echo paper and screen reading contrasts whole it is also a massive book publishing genre. So we can look outside of books for culture transmission, by looking inside books.


[1] Wayne Curtis, The Last Great Walk, the true story of a 1909 walk from New York to San Francisco, and why it matters today, Rodale, 2014.

[2] Slavomir Rawicz, The Long Walk, the true story of a trek to freedom, 1997 and Andrez Rosendez, A Land So Strange, the extraordinary tale of a shipwrecked Spaniard who walked across America in the sixteenth century, 2007.