Paper or Plasma?

a281998d749e3d91831d31164f311daaPaper or plasma? It’s an odd question that we’ve come to know all too well—at least in literary world. These days, Kindles seem to have overshadowed physical books and we’ve slowly but surely entered a new era of reading (and writing). E- reading has become the absolute norm. Like social media, swanky technological gadgets, and smart phones, digital reading has gone mainstream. But like the previously mentioned, it comes at a price.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter have sparked heated debates about privacy; iPads, iPhones and various other tablets and gizmos continue to pull us away from good old fashioned communication, causing worry among the older generation that life in the future will be limited to digital screens and complex buttons.

The once simple act of ‘deep reading’– of physically holding and engaging in a story or book– has now been replaced by ‘scattered reading,’ a loss in attention span, and the slowing down of multiple brain processes. Linear reading and digital distractions have become a serious issue, as recent neurological reports confirm that human beings use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. The more we read on screens, the more our minds shift towards non-linear reading, forcing us to give up on previously acquired brain activity because we are given too much stimulation on the screen.

Basically, it all boils down to this: There’s a significant possibility that deep reading and the physical form of paper may be intertwined. “It’s all one complex web that we need to start disentangling,” researcher Anne Mangen at the Unierosty of Stavanger in Norway says. “The study might still provide fodder for those who insist that reading a novel on a screen just isn’t the same. “It’s a confirmation that these ergonomic dimensions, the tactile feedback of holding paper, might actually matter.”

Perhaps this is why children and students– who seem to be growing up with a digital screen permanently attached to each hand these days– seem to be declining in academic performance when it comes to education in the United States. As mentioned in a post a couple weeks back, nearly one third of all high school graduates are not ready to embark onto college not to mention a career, even with the eighteen long years of education they’ve just attained.

27ff8aa0-2e14-0132-400f-0ebc4eccb42f.pngIs this the price we have to pay in order to enjoy the benefits of technological advancement? Are all the available plasma and LED screens ‘dumbing’ us down? It’s something interesting to think about.

I, for one, am one of those print copy romantics who’s known for her massive library of paperback novels. Rarely (if ever) do I use an e-reader and when it comes to printing texts out, I’m sorry to say that I’ve destroyed more than a few trees. I need to have a hardcopy. There’s a certain sensation that comes when grazing your finger over the pages of a book, or when you physically turn the edges of a paper page. It satisfies an old fashioned pleasure– one that’s not so readily available anymore.

But there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for my conventional literary madness. For years now, there’s been a looming prediction that the e-book market will slowly cannibalize print’s dominance. Yet a new Nielsen Study shows that paperbacks and hardcovers are still outselling e-books. Maybe there is hope after all.

These numbers, however, can be great news for everyone– tech lovers and technophobic bibliophiles alike. At Electric Literature, Lincoln Michel says, “Different formats have different strengths, and it is a great thing that there is a healthy ebook market and a healthy print market.”

In the editorial world for example, The California Sunday Magazine, which launched merely one weekend ago, is one of many aiming to combine the best of both markets. Print journalism, as we may all know, has been dealt a severe blow from our move into the digital age and publishers have since been scrambling to find innovative ways to keep up with changing times.

CaliforniaSundayMag-01-thumb-620x330-91676The brainchild of writer/editor Douglas McGray and publisher Chas Edwards, the new West Coast centric zine’ features original, thoughtful content (stories, photography and illustrations) by way of a subscription-based mobile app and website, as well as a monthly printed edition packaged for free with the Sunday issues of the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee (delivering an immediate 400,000-person circulation). A periodical that exists both online and in print. Genius.

“[We understand that] people read all different ways. We like the idea that we can make a magazine for however you like to read,”  McGray says.

And so the so-called paper vs. plasma ‘format wars’ may turn out not to be a war at all. As Michel so brilliantly puts it, “We may [instead] see that the various formats can work together to expand literature and create more readers and markets.”

Cheers to that.


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