A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece about a study that wanted to determine if there were any differences in the reading experience between print and digital books. The study was small, using only 50 subjects to read a 28-page Elizabeth George short story. Half of the participants read the print version and half read the story on Kindle. The subjects were then tested on aspects including objects, characters, and settings, and the scores were fairly even. But when they were asked to place 14 events in order, the e-reading subjects did significantly worse than the print readers.
The researchers therefore suggested that a Kindle doesn’t help readers retain what they’ve read as well as print because there’s no tactile and visual way to see the pages they’ve read. They also suggest that turning the pages may provide some sort of sensory offload that somehow helps reading comprehension. You can read more about this in the link I provided.
Another study referred to in the piece was conducted on 72 Norwegian grade ten students who were asked to read a text book in print and on their computer screens. Those who read the PDF version scored significantly lower on comprehension than those who’d read the print version.
I’m not sure what all this means or if the studies truly reflect the experiences of others. I do know that reading from a tablet is a different experience for me than reading from print. I read faster on a screen, or at least it appears so. There isn’t as much text on my iPad screen as there is in a trade paperback, so I’m tapping the screen far more often than I would be turning the page. Many of the books I download do tell me how long the book is and how many pages I have left to read. As for comprehension, honestly I haven’t tested myself, so who knows? I strongly suspect, though, that none of us who grew up reading print should discard it anytime soon.