9.723 reading from screen

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 12 Apr 1996 22:43:01 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 723.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Christine Gilmore <gilmorec@u.washington.edu> (58)
Subject: Re: 9.719 reading from screen

[2] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@utoronto.ca> (31)
Subject: the ghost of Dr. Mesmer?

[3] From: Lynne Taylor <ltaylor@watarts.uwaterloo.ca> (17)
Subject: reading from computer screen

Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 11:05:13 -0700 (PDT)
From: Christine Gilmore <gilmorec@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.719 reading from screen

I have to disagree with Dennis Leite here and agree with Fallows. The
reason I think books will never die is because it IS unpleasant reading
from a screen. Aside from the fact that one has to sit up in a chair, the
other problem is the rapid diminishment of one's eyesight (as I now squint
into a tiny screen with tiny white print, writing this message). No
matter how big the monitor, how tiny the dpi, how expensive the special
contact lenses (I need), I prefer to print out things that I wish to read
at my leisure. If it is a short message, fine, but for anything of
length, I prefer paper. In addition, sometimes I like to look at a page
ahead and still see the page I was originally on. This is a rather
cumbersome procedure on a computer. Frankly, I don't think hardware and
CD makers don't realize how much time many of us are forced to sit in
front of a computer screen. Even with frequent breaks, when I'm done
computing for the day, I've a headache and sometimes blurred vision. No,
no. Give me a book anyday.

Ciao, Christine Gilmore

Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 21:46:21 -0400
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@utoronto.ca>
Subject: the ghost of Dr. Mesmer?

Like many other Humanists, I spend a significant amount of time, from ca. 7
a.m. to midnight, looking at a computer screen, most of that time reading
from it. I have no difficulty as such, but my behaviour would suggest that I
prefer not to read in a sustained way from the screen. I glance at and read
short bits, do other things, then read more short bits. Sometimes I gaze at
words on screen as visual objects, gazing to aid thinking or simply to put
my conscious attention somewhere while the effective mental work goes on
elsewhere. If I come across something online that requires real attention
and thought, invariably I print it out. I have a very fine 17-inch screen, a
new pair of glasses, and a proper level of ambient light, so conditions for
reading on screen are near optimal given current technology, yet I
consistently avoid sustained reading. I discovered long ago that one should
NEVER proofread anything of importance on screen, because the tendency to
overlook perfectly obvious errors is so strong. Why is this?

Years ago I either read or was told that studies had been done to attempt an
answer, and that the conclusion pointed to the pulsing or vibrating of the
dynamically generated screen image as the culprit. The argument was, as I
recall, that the brain is thereby forced to do so much work to filter out
the distraction that focused attention is very difficult to sustain. The
"oscillators" in the brain are "entrained", as they sometimes are when one
drives a car down a tree-lined road with direct sunlight shining through the
trees. People have been known to lose consciousness under such
circumstances. Do we partially lose consciousness when attempting to read
from screen????

Does anyone know of such studies?

In any case, I find it more than mildly frustrating that we, who should know
better, are still talking about REPLACING books and so keeping ourselves
from concentrating on what the computer can do well that the physical codex


Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 10:05:40 -0400
From: Lynne Taylor <ltaylor@watarts.uwaterloo.ca>
Subject: reading from computer screen

While I work on the computer all day (when writing) and for large chunks of
the day even when teaching, I find that I can only read and digest short
documents on-screen. Anything over two or three pages, and I lose the
train of thought. So the computer screen works well for short documents,
email, etc, but I have to print out longer documents. This has implications
for online publishing, I would think. I would end up printing out
articles, even chunks of books, rather than perusing them on the screen.
On the positive side, I might be able to do a 'search' of an online book,
and only print out a selected part of the text, the part I wanted to read.
Just had a thought - this might work well with textbooks for students - too
often survey texts cover much more than I wish to in a course, and I can't
ask the students to spend $60+ on a text of which they may have to read
50%. If the text were online, they could print out the portions assigned
and nothing more - like a coursepack.

Lynne Taylor

Department of History, University of Waterloo, Waterloo ON Canada N2L 3G1