One question divides 21st Century bookworms: Paper or digital? Many say nothing beats curling up with a good book, feeling the pages in their hands. Others meanwhile say that the convenience of reading on a tablet or an e-reader cannot be beaten. In the business world, the same question is every bit as pertinent. Do you print out key documents and emails, or do you prefer to view them on your monitor?
The view taken by most scientists was – until recently – that digital reading was somehow shallower, and that data digested from a screen was harder to retain. Researchers believed data printed or written on paper acted as an anchor for the human memory, helping people remember information more clearly.
A few contemporary studies, however, have thrown those ideas into doubt. Improved resolution and overall quality upgrades for displays and e-readers means these devices now provide a more comfortable reading experience. So-called digital natives, a generation of people raised reading text from screens, often say they are more comfortable with screens and e-readers than paper books.
A New Approach to the Paper-Digital Divide
Thanks to the latest developments in neuropsychology, scientists say they are beginning to better understand how the brain absorbs and processes information. A paper presented in May this year at the Computer Human Interaction conference in San Jose, California offered an intriguing take on how the platforms differ.
In a paper entitled “High-Low Split: Divergent Cognitive Construal Levels Triggered by Digital and Non-Digital Platforms,” Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan presented research suggesting reading from digital screens and paper lead to different levels of understanding in each case.
The authors say that the human brain can focus on facts or data and interpret them in either concrete or abstract ways (which psychologists call “construals”).
For example, if you were to think about how you prepared for a test, you might focus concretely on the fact that you were sitting on a chair with a book in front of you. Or you could imagine it more abstractly, envisaging the preparation as part of an effort to improve your life in some way.
Alternately, you might either describe the process of locking a door as putting a key in a lock (concrete) or as securing your house (abstract).
The Kaufman-Flanagan team devised a test whereby participants were asked to describe a basic process such as washing clothes. Half the testers completed their answers using paper and pencils, while the other half used tablet devices. The results were surprising – those who took paper tests proved around 25 percent more likely to choose more abstract descriptions.
The researchers also asked participants to read short passages and then answer a series of questions about the text. Some of the questions were very specific, while others dealt with more abstract matters. Again, the paper testers performed better with the abstract tasks, while the digital readers did better with the concrete assignments.
Different Tools for Different Needs
The implications of this research could have real effects on the way we work. Should you print out your reports or offer digital versions instead? While previous research seemed to indicate that paper-based information was in some way more valuable than digital data because of the way the human mind works, the Kaufman-Flanagan research indicates that this is perhaps not the case.
A passage in the report reads, “There is great value in utilizing lower-level, concrete construals of information, particularly in domains requiring the careful consideration of lower-level details, such as analytical problem solving and risk assessment.”
If Kaufman and Flanagan’s findings are correct, carefully considering your audience is going to be your best bet if you want to convey a message. If you want your document’s readers to remember dates, numbers or other concrete data, digital solutions may well be the way to go. And if you want readers to understand more abstract conclusions, paper could well be your best bet.
Has science solved the question of “Paper or digital?” The answer, it seems is: “It depends.”
Fortunately, Samsung Printing Solutions offers a variety document platforms and solutions to best suit your needs. Our MFPs and printers can create high-quality paper printouts, while our range of digital workflow solutions makes handling digital documents easier than ever. Abstract or concrete, Samsung has the printing solutions your business needs.