There is no doubt that reading in and of itself has plenty of benefits for our minds. Studies have shown that reading over the course of a lifetime can prevent mental decline. Along with keeping your mind sharp and enlarging your knowledge base, reading can expand your sense of empathy, too. Researchers found that when people were transported into the emotional travails of books' characters, they grew to become more empathetic in real life. So the act of reading is great, of course. But the way you’re reading also has an impact on your physical and mental health.
In our technology-driven world, the paper book has been increasingly competing with electronic devices — e‑book readers, laptops, smartphones, etc. Good old-fashioned books are no longer seen as practical. E-books = no paper = trees continue to grow. New technology is a good thing, it saves the forest.
Researchers examined the differences between reading regular books and e-books. Many of the studies like the one conducted by Lecia Bushak show that reading old-fashioned books has plenty of advantages over e-books in terms of health. Besides the fact that e-books are often gateways to other electronic distractions, they also screw our sleep. This is why you should ditch the screen for printed pages in the evening. A recent study out of Harvard University found that reading an e-book before bed lessened the production of an important sleep hormone known as melatonin. As a result, people took much longer to fall asleep, experienced less deep sleep, and were more fatigued in the morning.
Besides benefits in terms of health, there’s something simple and special, however, about reading a classic paper book that e-books seem to lack. Reading an old-fashioned paper book might seem out of style, wasteful, or impractical. But don’t underestimate the simplicity of holding a physical book in your hands, flipping through the pages, and not having anything else to shift your focus to. Commit to the classic paper book and you'll get the full, healthier experience. Moreover, a 2014 study found that readers who used an e-book reader were less competent in recalling the plot and events in the book than those who used paperbacks. Researchers still aren’t quite sure why this occurs, but it might have something to do with being able to physically and visually track your progress in a real book.
“In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than e-book readers,” said Anne Mangen of Stavanger University in Norway, an author of the study, according to The Guardian. “When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual. … Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.”
Recent reports indicate that also from an environmental standpoint, it's better to stick to your old paperback books, rather than switch to e-readers. A common misconception among people is that one who wants to help protect national and international forests, and by extension the environment, can do this by using e-readers instead of old-fashioned books. The rationale behind this is quite simple: e-readers require no paper, therefore no trees are cut and so the forests are safe. As Ecogeek informs us, what most e-reader owners tend to overlook is the fact that, even if paper is no longer required to satisfy their reading needs, quite a lot of materials is needed to manufacture e-readers. Thus, even if the carbon footprint of your regular books industry is considerably diminished for the obvious reason that incredibly fewer books actually do get printed, this advantage is counter-balanced by the rapid growth of the digital books industry.
The heart of this dilemma is how to compare the ecological impact of printing books with that using an e-reader, and figure out which is a greener option based on your own reading habits. But doing so isn't always easy.
Are e-books greener than paper books? Are e-books an environmentally sustainable choice? What’s the greenest way to read? From an environmental point of view, the short answer might be “we’re not sure, and it depends." From a medical point of view and accounting for our health and welfare, further research is needed to provide an answer. The debate is still going on and the final word hasn't been said yet.
The mapping of some PROs and CONs of reading classic paper books and e-books using electronic devices indicates that the two most important sustainability concerns are environmental and cultural. Apart of all data and studies on the matter, the dilemma mainly relates to our personal preferences where they are based on. In CASI we involve citizens to take part in the discussion on sustainable innovation by giving them the opportunity to delineate their vision for a sustainable future. The dilemma between e-books and paper books is only one example of a public concern and an opportunity to engage citizens in evaluating or assessing an already developed technology.
Interested to read more on this topic? Eco-Libris provides you with some more reports and articles on this topic.