The Future of Digital Reading

Recently my daughter gave me a book by Naomi S. Baron titled Words on Screen – The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (2015 Oxford). Naomi Baron is Professor of Linguistics at American University in Washington, D.C.

In the U.S.A in 2013, 30% of the books sold were eBooks – page 207.

Professor Baron states “for romance, erotic fiction and mysteries or thrillers, eBooks were strongly preferred over print”. Page 232.

Baron argues that careful reading and careful thinking are the hallmark of higher education, and that such reading and thinking is better done in print. Baron states “the biggest reason print is so often preferred is that compared with reading onscreen, print tends to limit distraction. As a result, it encourages mental focus.” Also eyestrain and legibility can be problems with reading digitally – page 169.

There appears to be a strong preference for print by readers of long non-fiction.

My granddaughter Amy Appleby is entering her senior year at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She is an English major. Amy reports that for short assignments of less than 20 pages her classmates read both in print and online about half and half. Amy says that for longer assignments she and most of her classmates prefer paper. She says paper allows her to make notes that she can review later.

Professor Baron notes that the ease of reading eBooks has steadily improved. The Kindle and the iPad with their steady improvements tends to make ereading easier and more attractive.

Baron notes that at universities journal articles have migrated from library stacks to digital access – page 210. Similarly case law access has migrated to digital access. Subscriptions to print volumes of case law have decreased dramatically since the advent of the Internet. Case law online is a popular resource for students and researchers.

Access to information such as word definitions are best found by using digital dictionaries. Also searching for a legal citation is best performed digitally. But the editing of a judicial decision and the drafting a headnote for a decision is best performed from print and not from a screen. Here at Maritime Law Book our editors invariably read and edit from print when reading a case and preparing a headnote.

Professor Baron does not address the long term storage problems of digital material. These problems are the subject of a book by Robert Darnton, titled The Case of Books (2009 PublicAffairs).


  1. If you speak with sleep doctor specialists (MD licensed) and others who deal with patients that have sleep problems (having enough sleep) and patients with concussions, patients, non-injured people (like some of us) are advised of no computer screen exposure several hrs. before bed.

    The brain tends to be unnecessarily stimulated which can make it more difficult at times, to fall asleep.

    Also for concussion patients, depending on injury severity, are requested by physician for no computer exposure for several wks, etc.: the flipping of screen changes, screen scrolling up and down, is tiring when the brain is recovering.

    I will be requesting for medical journal citations for computer blue light screen problems.. from physicians. Ask your sleep doctor—most major Canadian big cities with teaching hospital, have at least 1 sleep clinic.

    Ask your emergency medical doctor who deals with head injuries often. My 2 sources are my sister who is one and a sleep doctor.

    So….reading a print book, magazine can be more relaxing to the brain –especially before bed.

  2. Primary (elementary) and High Schools in Australia are now recommending that students be encouraged to disconnect from their (school-provided) tablets and laptops at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime to allow time to rest their eyes and brains from the effects of the blue-light which these devices emit.

    Then there is the alleged threat of myopia resulting from overexposure of young eyes to tablets:

  3. Gary P. Rodrigues

    I would argue that careful reading and careful thinking are also the hallmark of the practice of law, and that such reading and thinking is better done in print.

    There clearly is a future for hard bound legal treatises and monographs, despite the social and corporate pressure to go digital. Digital is not the answer to everything as Eric clearly states in his post.

    Thank you.