Saturday, March 17, 2012

E-Books and Memory

I love my Kindle. For Anglos living in Israel, there really isn't a better solution to solving the "no library - no decent bookstore" problem (Ignoring the Shabbat downside). However this article makes one of the first logical and strong arguments against Ebooks:

My personal library serves as extension of my brain. I may have read all my books, but I don't remember most of the information. What I remember is where in my library my knowledge sits, and I can look it up when I need it. But I can only look it up because my books are geographically arranged in a fixed spatial organization, with visual landmarks. I need to take the integral of an arctangent? Then I need my Table of Integrals book, and that's in the left bookshelf, upper middle, adjacent to the large, colorful Intro Calculus book.
And once I have found the book, the static non-shifting text inside allows me find the right page and spot on the page. If books were uniform horizontal streams of text, there would be a dearth of visual cues for inside-the-book navigation. But books aren't like that. At a minimum, the paragraph structure creates large block shapes on each page, with different sizes, often unique in patterns. And inside each paragraph are words of varying size, sentences of varying length, and letters which dip down between lines here and there, all creating a look of their own. And most books also have figures, images, and tables, which provide marked cues for navigation to the piece of knowledge I possess. All these cues rely, though, on their fixed spatial placement within the book and on the page.

In other words - a large part of our memory is spatial. As anyone who read a "improve your memory" book knows, one of the classic methods of improving your memory is using spatial cues (i.e putting memories in an imaginary vault/palace etc..). in Ebooks however there is next to nothing distinguishing one page from another. Additionally the pages themselves change somewhat depending on your settings.

This is argued more scientifically in this article:

“What we found was that people on paper started to ‘know’ the material more quickly over the passage of time,” says Garland. “It took longer and [required] more repeated testing to get into that knowing state [with the computer reading, but] eventually the people who did it on the computer caught up with the people who [were reading] on paper.”
Context and landmarks may actually be important to going from “remembering” to “knowing.” The more associations a particular memory can trigger, the more easily it tends to be recalled. Consequently, seemingly irrelevant factors like remembering whether you read something at the top or the bottom of page — or whether it was on the right or left hand side of a two-page spread or near a graphic — can help cement material in mind
He 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.”

H/t - Both articles from The Dish - Andrew Sullivan.

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