How Reading has Changed in the Digital Age


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April 2018 I got a package I had been waiting for for over a year. I paid roughly $500 to try to bring my academic reading obsession to the digital world.

I am a veracious reader. According to my Amazon account, my all-time book purchase counts at 197 since 2009. There are 143 books in my kindle and 197 audiobooks in my audible library. My bookshelves have been pruned down to essentials but are also loaded. This doesn’t even include the academic reading I usually print from the internet.

Prior to this arrival I had a strategy. Inspirational books and fiction books were purchased in audio format for listening during driving time. Kindle books were for content that did not require significant retention, study, and note-taking. Hard-cover books were ordered when I needed to study, retain, or take notes. For me, nothing helped with retention more than highlighting and writing notes in the margins.

Unfortunately, Amazon’s Kindle devices just don’t cut it when it comes to note-taking. Go to YouTube and look up taking notes on a Kindle and be prepared to be appalled. It is not a very positive experience.

Other tablets have not fully captured this note taking need, until ReMarkable. Marketed as the tablet for “paper people” like me. When I got the device I was astounded by the performance and experience. I could definitely replace my notebooks and planners with this device. However, ebooks are still a limitation since only pdfs are supported. Most ebook manufacturers do not offer pdf versions due to piracy concerns.

Regardless, I love this tablet and the paper-like experience I get. I can read many academic studies I turn into pdfs from the web and make notes as I would if I printed them. I believe in the power of paper, and certain reading just can’t be digital… yet.

As ReMarkable leads the way it is likely that competitors will take up the torch and improve the product with colors and kindle book functionality. There is a market for this type of product with over 50,000 sold and people paying over $500 for each.

While e-books rise in popularity and people read more and more online, there will always be a place for paper… even if it is digital paper. Here are a few big reasons supported by research:

  1. The print is easier on the eyes. Backlit screens create a lot of eye strain, and may even be more mentally taxing for readers. “Almost half the participants complained about eyestrain from reading digitally (“my eyes burn”)” (Baron, 2016, para. 6).
  2. Print reduces the likelihood of multitasking and therefore is better for reading that requires focus and retention. “67 percent indicated they were likely to multitask while reading digitally (compared with 41 percent when reading print).” (Baron, 2016, para. 6).
  3. Studies are inconclusive on whether students learn better with print, but I argue they do. Many studies just have students read the print and digital content and take a comprehension test after. As an educator, I will tell you that the best students do not read the same as average students. The best students highlight and take notes in the margins, something you cannot do with a digital book (at least not much yet). When I have a digital textbook I usually do worse in a course. I always seek to have a hard copy and do better when I do because of the notes and highlights. Remarkable helps me bridge the digital gap by giving me the option to move some of my paper reading into a digital capacity. Subjectively most students feel that they learn better when using printed reading materials.

My campus tried to move reading to the digital realm in 2016. Instead of textbooks, every student received a tablet and access to course text. The result… student outrage. The tablets only lasted for a few short months before the campus switched back to hard-copy textbooks. My adult learners did not want the digital reading, they wanted print. This alone says something.

I believe this debate will resolve as new technology evolves to recognize and solve this issue. ReMarkable has already begun the process… I wonder what will come next?



Baron, N. (2016, July 20). Why Digital Reading Is No Substitute for Print. Retrieved from



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