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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 09/29/2009

CHECKING IT OUT, Part 2--Teens Talk About Screen vs. Print

By Valerie Strauss

The Answer Sheet asked some teenagers to explain whether they prefer to read on screen or in print, if they can detect a difference in the way they read, and if they think they can do without reading anything on paper. Given the ease with which young people use screens, some of these answers surprised The Sheet:


Hojung Lee
Senior, Mt. Hebron High School
Ellicott City, Md.


Oh, I DEFINITELY prefer reading books or articles on paper. You can do all sorts of things with hard copies -- you can highlight them, you can wrinkle, tear, fold, mark important phrases with your favorite pen, put stickers and stain marks. Then it becomes more personal and more intimate because you can actually see and touch it. It’s also easier to approach -- I would rather run to get the morning newspaper rather than to wait for minutes to turn on my computer and wait for all the things to upload. Ah, the moment of impatience.

There is actually a great difference in the way and the speed I read. When I read something online, my eyes are tired and I just automatically become unfocused. It is also hard to read text-heavy materials online -- I witness a decrease in the reading speed as well as lowered comprehension and loss of concentration.

I don’t even want to think about a future without reading on paper. Reading on paper is too authentic and original to do so. There will still be a great demand for them despite the prevalence of the Internet. We still cut out, collect, and cherish articles from newspapers for years. We don’t do that for printed online materials.

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Nikki Kaul
Junior, McLean High School
McLean, Va.


In today’s day and age, being an integral part of the digital generation, I honestly prefer reading stuff online. One, it can provide more interactivity for readers, therefore stimulating brain activity. Two, reading along the lines while tracing your mouse helps if someone needs to stop and retrace their reading in the selection. The speed at which I read when on a computer is noticeably faster than when I read on paper. The future is computers, and I feel that the sooner we adapt to them, the better off we will be as humans.

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Emily Aronson
Junior, Whitman Senior High School
Bethesda, Md.


I prefer to read books and articles on paper. This allows me to highlight and annotate the reading, which is especially important for difficult documents. Because I am able to annotate as I read, I gain a better understanding of the text. When I am reading something on the computer, I often have to enlarge the font and I find it difficult to concentrate on long paragraphs.

I think that printed materials are more convenient because I can take them with me anywhere I go and I am not confined to sitting at a computer for long periods of time. Even when my teachers post assignments online, I usually print out a copy of the documents so that I can refer to them in class and ask questions about specific passages.

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Naveed Siddiqui
Senior, Eleanor Roosevelt High School
Greenbelt, Md.


I prefer to read material on the computer because it is more easily accessible. I’m usually always on my computer either doing homework or on Facebook. Also, if I read an article online, I can read related articles and information on the topic immediately to find out more about it, which I can’t do if I am reading an article on paper. I don’t think there’s a difference in the way I read or in the speed I read at. And I don’t think that I’ll be able to go completely digital in terms of reading because I’m so used to reading textbooks on paper. If my school books were on my computer and my computer malfunctioned, I’d be in big trouble...

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Adam Turay
Senior, South County Secondary School
Lorton, Va.


I always prefer reading on paper instead of on the computer. The simple reason for this preference is that reading on paper is far more enjoyable. The cliché of “curling up with a good book” is far more appealing than the idea of sitting against a hard-backed chair and staring at a bright LCD monitor for an hour.

When I’m reading something online, it often seems like work. Most of the time, when there are long articles that I really want to read, I will print them out. Reading things on the computer seems like work and so the manner in which I read online is slower and more methodical. It’s less enjoyable and more arduous than reading even a newspaper or magazine.

I foresee a time when paper newspapers and magazines are no long as viable as their online versions, but I can’t imagine not being able to go the library and check out some 20th century masterpiece with a withered spine and yellowing pages. Even with the advent of e-books like Amazon’s Kindle, I think (and hope) that paper continues to thrive for decades to come.

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Emily Gordon
8th grade, Westland Middle School
Bethesda, Md.


I prefer reading on the computer. The psychological effect on me is that since I know that I’m on the computer, it makes me more engaged, because I like my computer much better than a book. When I sit down and read a book, I know that I have to spend a lot of time just sitting there, which makes me bored and lose interest. Another thing about a screen is that I don’t know what page I’m on. It makes me feel that I have less pressure to read a book, since I know what page I’m on, and how many I have left to read until I finish the book. I usually become a little impatient with that and stop reading during the first 25 pages.

I think I read faster on a screen. I can make the font of the book bigger or smaller, and I concentrate more, which makes me read faster. When reading from paper, I usually read really slow. I recently read "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck for school. It’s only a 90 page book, but it took me about 3 hours to read. That’s about 30 pages per hour. The English was simple, and the font wasn’t too small, and there wasn’t too much on each page. I got distracted a lot from reading this, because I couldn’t stand reading on paper. So I guess I read slower on paper than on a screen, because of the things around me and the constant distractions. Probably because I didn’t really want to read it!

Reading things only on the screen and not paper would be a little awkward for me. Even though I prefer reading on my computer, I still am used to reading things on paper at school, or when I read out of a text book for homework. I think that for learning purposes, like my math, American history, and French text books, reading out of the book, on paper is easier. I know that the answers for my homework are all in the book right in front of me, instead of having to Google something and going through about 10 websites to find one answer.

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Aishwarya Venkat
Senior, Annandale High School
Annandale, Va.


I prefer reading books and printed articles compared to on the computer. Call me old-school, but I honestly feel that I cannot actually absorb information as I am reading online articles, however informative they may be.

Now that I think about it, I feel that there are several flaws with reading information online. First of all, there are a billion ads, hyperlinks, and other distractions surrounding any web page as you are trying to read. As profitable as it may be, I feel that it takes away a lot from a focused reading experience like the ones I have when I am intently reading a book. Also, staring at a computer screen gets tiring after about 30 minutes. I need to be engaged, but then as I do that, I link-hop, and my concentration is broken. I can never focus when I’m on the internet.

Another downside of reading articles online is that I can’t write on them. I am a very visual person, and if I have a printed copy, I can highlight, write down connections, and actually understand what I am reading rather in MY terms, not the authors’. There is NO way of doing that online, especially if you are under a time constraint and are trying to cram your mind with snippets of information that you never retain anyway.

No, I don’t think there will come a time when I could do anything without reading a paper. I would be highly disappointed if all of our knowledge was condensed to data rather than knowledge. As much as we think of digitized media and how amazing it is, I feel that if we stop reading on paper, our thinking will shift from understanding to a much more data-processing way of thinking. I wouldn’t consider that learning, just as I wouldn’t consider knowing infobytes as understanding.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 29, 2009; 11:40 AM ET
Tags:  reading, screen vs. print  
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