cover image Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World

Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World

Naomi S. Baron. Oxford Univ, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-19-931576-5

The solidity of the printed word disappears when transferred to the computer screen, with consequences both cultural and cognitive, according to this probing study of e-reading. American University linguistics professor Baron (Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World) surveys the history and brain science of reading, drawing on her own research into college students’ reading experiences to explore the effects of reading off of Kindles, laptops, and cell phones. These technologies, she argues, have spawned habits of shallow skimming, distracted multitasking, and quick forgetting rather than the deep, focused attention and analysis we accord to printed books; the result is a new paradigm of literacy “in which length and complexity and annotation and memory and rereading and, especially, concentration are proving more challenging.” That’s the bad news; the good news, she notes, is that ordinary readers maintain a healthy preference for paper and ink and are pushing back against the onscreen-reading bandwagon. Baron’s breezy prose—written in brief, pithy sections, a structure that owes much to online conventions—packs much erudition into a lucid, engaging style. Among the many death-of-the-book jeremiads, her case for the ongoing relevance of the printed page stands out for its clarity and common sense. Photos. [em](Feb.) [/em]