Review of Baron’s ‘Words Onscreen’ at

People reading on the subway

image via: Nate Edwards

In my July post for I reviewed Naomi Baron’s Words Onscreen. I wanted to like the book more, but I felt Baron’s approach lacked the kind of detail that would justify her generalized comments about screen reading. Hopefully other researchers will step into the public space that Baron has occupied with this text and give us a more nuanced evaluation of our society’s transition from print to digital reading.

We are not yet cultured to digital reading as we are with reading print — we are still training ourselves to manage the new distractions produced by our devices and becoming literate in the navigational affordances of digital texts.

Acknowledging this is a difficult task, one that is not solved by calls to relegate our serious reading to ink and paper. I’m committed to the idea that the material form of information affects how that information is accessed and processed. From that perspective it is not simply fair to ask how one material formation of the book (or any text) affects how we process its content, it is essential. However, such a study should actually pay attention to the material formation of those books — the interfaces, the modes of access, the availability of content, navigation, and all of the other unique features that constitute the distinctions between different media. When these issues are ignored, any claims about “digital reading” become so general as to be useless. In attempting to address everything, such claims end up addressing nothing.

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