Science has great news for bibliophiles who can’t quite get the same buzz from downloading an e-book onto their Kindle as they do from the purchase of a good old-fashioned paper novel.

Aside from the fact that Kindle removes the sensory experience of book-ownership – you can’t touch, flick through, even smell a Kindle book – a recent study has suggested that readers who attempt to absorb information from an e-book are less likely to remember facts that those who read the same information from the printed page.

The study, lead by Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, concluded that "the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does."

Oddly enough, despite its widely-reported benefits, reading is a very taxing exercise for our brains, which did not originally evolve to recognise symbols and text. In order to perform the task, the brain must create a mental representation of the text, which it does using the placement of the page in the book and the location of the written word on the page.

Perhaps it is the kinaesthetic nature of reading a paper book that reinforces its content into our brains; the turning of the page, the appreciation of the size, shape and visual appearance of the book, its weight and thickness. Mangen suggests that Kindle readers miss out on an experience that "might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading."

For readers of e-books, the reading experience is far less of a physical, tactile experience. The text is displayed on a one page screen that never alters, reducing the act of reading to a very one-dimensional occupation with little diversity to stimulate the brain. Surveys of e-book users indicate that the reader can feel very passive, and frustration by the inability to interact with the book in any way, by making written notes or turning the corner of a page. Previous studies have indicated that reading is likely to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, with elderly subjects who were regular readers being 2.5 times less likely to develop the condition. Whether this statistic would apply to elderly e-book readers is now in question: perhaps it is the additional sensory stimulation that accompanies the reading of a paper book that helps to retain cognitive abilities in elderly brains.

For the bibliophile, this latest news is almost irrelevant. For them, the relationship with a paper book extends far beyond its content. These are the devout individuals who will visit bookshops just to look, handle, and appreciate the mouth-watering volumes of literature, illustrations and prose that grace the shelves, but even the casual reader often enjoys the interactive experience provided by a paper book. Each volume carries with it something unique: the age of the book may evoke memories of a by-gone age, or maybe an insight into the personality and identity of the author, who would find it impossible to personally sign an e-book.

Along with all other forms of virtual information, e-books have their place in our technologically-advanced society, and have certainly increased the accessibility of information. But they can never replace the joy of opening a new volume fresh from the imagination of our favorite author.

Don’t forget that our favorite author, Whitley Strieber, has recently published a new and exciting addition to his “Alien Hunter” series. Buy “Underworld” now!
 

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