Saturday morning quotes 4.43: Paper or plastic?
As we notice the infiltration of electronic devices into every dimension of our lives, we also notice how dependence on one’s phone seems to have resulted in complete erasure from memory the recollection of phone numbers. All it takes is the loss of your phone, the crash of your hard drive, loss of an internet connection, to bring modern life to a screeching halt. We all seem to be supremely confident that all will be restored very soon and we can resume life as normal. But is this a realistic assumption, especially in view of so many examples of efforts to rewrite history?
“The past, he reflected, had not merely been altered, it had been actually destroyed. For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?”
– George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair, 1903 – 1950), Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1 Chapter 3 (1949)
There are far too many political reasons to rewrite the past to gain control of the present and future, such as recent destruction of important traces of past civilizations.
“It’s a crime against Assyria, against Iraq, and against humanity. Destroy the past, and you control the future. The Nazis knew this, and the Khmer Rouge – and the Islamic State clearly understand it too.”
If you spend most of your time buried in old music with the goal of recreating sounds from the past, it is almost essential to work from printed paper scores with pencil in hand to clarify ambiguities, correct original written or printing errors, and scrawl interpretive ideas and notes to self. We now hear of musicians reading from electronic score pads on music stands, and this seems wrong. What if some evil hacker in the audience decided to add wrong notes to the electronic scores, and an elegant string quartet by Mozart suddenly morphed into nightmarish notes of Bartok?
We have remarked on this theme in the past. Aside from this weekly bit of tapping on the laptop, which oftentimes includes links to information we cannot verify as the accurate truth, we read books printed on paper—and we prefer to play from paper scores.
This interesting article suggests that people who read and handle books printed on paper actually absorb and retain information more effectively.
Some of the earliest forms of writing, such as Sumerian cuneiform, began as characters shaped like the objects they represented—a person’s head, an ear of barley, a fish. Some researchers see traces of these origins in modern alphabets: C as crescent moon, S as snake. Especially intricate characters—such as Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji—activate motor regions in the brain involved in forming those characters on paper: The brain literally goes through the motions of writing when reading, even if the hands are empty. Researchers recently discovered that the same thing happens in a milder way when some people read cursive.
In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself…Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.
At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension. In a study published in January 2013 Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her colleagues asked 72 10th-grade students of similar reading ability to study one narrative and one expository text, each about 1,500 words in length. Half the students read the texts on paper and half read them in pdf files on computers with 15-inch liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors. Afterward, students completed reading-comprehension tests consisting of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, during which they had access to the texts. Students who read the texts on computers performed a little worse than students who read on paper.
When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation—strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way. In a 2011 experiment at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, college students took multiple-choice exams about expository texts either on computers or on paper. Researchers limited half the volunteers to a meager seven minutes of study time; the other half could review the text for as long as they liked. When under pressure to read quickly, students using computers and paper performed equally well. When managing their own study time, however, volunteers using paper scored about 10 percentage points higher. Presumably, students using paper approached the exam with a more studious frame of mind than their screen-reading peers, and more effectively directed their attention and working memory.
– Ferris Jabr, “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens,” Scientific American, Thursday, April 11, 2013