There was a column in our morning paper today by David Brooks, who writes for the New York Times, It was about how the Internet affects our attention spans. Research has shown “that the online life nurtures fluid intelligence and offline life is better at nurturing crystallizing intelligence. Fluid intelligence is a set of skills that exist in the moment . . . that perceive situations and navigate to solutions . . . independent of long experience.”
Crystallizing intelligence, on the other hand, ” is the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory. It is the ability to make analogies and comparisons about things you have studied before, [that] accumulates over the years and leads ultimately to understanding and wisdom.”
This distinction interests me because, according to research at the University of Oslo, “people read a printed page differently than they read off a screen. They are more linear, more intentional, less likely to multitask or browse for keywords.” From a writer’s standpoint, then, an eBook is perceived by the reader differently from the same book on paper. Writers who address ideas, who rely on “analogies and comparisons,” are not as likely to communicate those ideas via an eBook.
When you read a book made of paper, away from the computer screen, as Brooks says, “You’re concerned with the narrative shape, the synthesizing theory or the overall context. You have time to see how one thing layers onto another, producing mixed emotions, ironies and paradoxes. You have time to lose yourself in another’s complex environment.” In other words, you are experiencing the book as the author intended.
I’m not sure how this analysis affects Kindles and Nooks without wide search capabilities. Both are little “computers” dedicated to a particular function that might minimize distractions. But–the next time you’re faced with the choice between paper and electronic, you might want to consider the nature of the “experience” you’re buying.