Screen Size Matters

More via Andrew Sullivan;

Neuroscientist Mark Changizi explains how e-books, like much of the web, lack spatial navigability, which can be key to remembering information:

We don’t navigate the web so much as beam hither and thither within it. Can’t find your way to the ticket site? No matter, you can Google-beam directly there by typing in the name. And not only is the web not spatial or navigable, but the new reading experiences within documents have lost their spatial sense as well. … Need to jump to that part of the book where they discussed cliff jumping? You will get no help from the local topography, but you can beam yourself directly there via a within-document text search. 

Screen size also matters:

[Jakob Nielsen, a web “usability” expert,] says that studies show that smaller screens also make material less memorable. “The bigger the screen, the more people can remember and the smaller, the less they can remember,” he says. “The most dramatic example is reading from mobile phones. [You] lose almost all context.”

I recently too wondered about the effects that E-book reading has on one’s ability to recall. I have recently read a few books on my 4.5 inch phone. The reading itself was fine and the environment not straining or difficult, but I have felt a measurably drastic loss of context. In my personal experience, the actual spatial dimensions of different pages of a book seem very important to memorability. It is as if having an physical thing helps create stops in your mind where you can remember the end of a chapter, or the timeline of the plot itself. I can remember the plot well enough, as it wholly engrossing, but that missing “local topography” makes all the difference in terms of being able to piece together what happened around a specific plot point. It is no wonder reading and jotting down notes in the margins is held highly in esteem as the best way of fully imbibing in a text by many famous writers. My lamentation is that the books I have read on my phone were absolutely wonderful; and I now have to resolve to go back and read them in their physical form one day soon. It is too easy to download a book off the internet and start reading it right then and there. Perhaps we will come to a point where physical book and e-book sales will meet at equilibrium due to the contextual dearth e-books create. I wonder what this says about our culture as a whole; that we will increasingly become myopic, or that there will be a drive against the proliferation of material on screens. Will this affect children now who are learning with tablets and iPads?


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