- Because people use screens for social purposes and entertainment, they have become accustomed to absorbing online materials without much effort.
- According to Baron’s book, university students who print out articles tend to have higher grades and better test scores, and that reading comprehension is generally better when readers see a single printed page at a time rather than continually scrolling though text on a screen.
- Baron’s book highlights the value of practicing slower reading behaviors with children—perhaps by relaxing with a child before bedtime and reading a book together without rushing.
By Christine Dunne
Although the production industry is always extolling the benefits of printing, the same isn’t necessarily occurring in the office printing space. Office printing vendors are primarily focused on helping their customers save money and streamline processes—which certainly makes sense from the customer’s point of view—but some of their efforts inherently reduce the opportunities for printing. The question is, does it have to be this way? Might there be some real benefits of paper in the office, or at least printed worksheets in educational settings?
Naomi Baron, a Linguistics Professor at American University, seems to think so. A New York Times article highlighted Baron’s new book entitled How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio. In her book, Baron asserts that there are two components to how people read: the physical medium they choose and the mindset that they bring to that medium.
Screens vs. Print: What’s the Difference?
Because people use screens for social purposes and entertainment, they have become accustomed to absorbing online materials without much effort. As a result, using this same approach to read more complex material on a screen, it is difficult for them to devote the level of attention that is required for learning.
Baron focuses on the impact that media choice can have on learning, especially for younger readers. Even so, this topic could arguably extend to digesting, understanding, and analyzing information for professional work. According to Baron’s book, university students who print out articles tend to have higher grades and better test scores, and that reading comprehension is generally better when readers see a single printed page at a time rather than continually scrolling though text on a screen. It isn’t a huge leap to surmise that professionals who take the time to process information in printed form might reap the same benefits.
Dr. Jenny Radesky, a Developmental Behavior Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics who was interviewed in the New York Times article, argues that print by its very nature puts us in a mindset to reflect, remember details, and integrate new information with life experiences. Although Radesky is referring to young children, I can certainly relate to the notion that online and digital consumption might prevent me from thoroughly processing information.
According to Keypoint Intelligence’s Future of Office Printing research, 56% of US office workers report printing “optional” documents at work (in other words, documents that don’t need to be printed as part of a business process) because they prefer to edit or review on paper. This preference might very well be based on their improved ability to absorb and decipher information.
Figure 1. Reasons for Printing at Work
N = 238 US office workers who print “optional” documents at work
Source: Future of Office Printing Study; Keypoint Intelligence 2018
Radesky stresses the importance of starting a conversation with children about the advantages of different media types (print, digital screen, audio, video, etc.) as well as experimenting with various media types to see how attention span is affected. As professional adults, we can certainly do this too by trying out different ways of consuming information. Of course, we’ll also have more personal experiences to draw on regarding the effectiveness of various media types.
Baron’s book highlights the value of practicing slower reading behaviors with children—perhaps by relaxing with a child before bedtime and reading a book together without rushing. Adults can also incorporate this behavior, even if they’re just reading something that they printed at work. Another strategy might involve learning to slow down when reviewing our digital documents. As noted above, one component of how people read is the mindset they bring to the activity. If we suppress the desire to multitask (e.g., checking e-mail, IMs, and social media) when we’re reading digital documents, we might be able to pay closer attention to digital documents.
The Bottom Line
One thing has become crystal clear during this past year of remote learning and working—we have an opportunity to think about what makes us most productive and perhaps challenge our preconceived notions. We all need to decide what works best for us—digital, print, or a combination of both depending on the task. Regardless of our personal choices, the print industry (including the office environment) must champion the benefits of printing. If we don’t, we’ll like miss out on opportunities to delight clients and increase profits. It’s our responsibility to explore the advantages of print, and then share this knowledge with the rest of the world.
Christine Dunne is a Consulting Editor for Keypoint Intelligence’s Office Technology & Services Group. Her responsibilities include responding to client inquiries, conducting market research and analysis, and providing coverage of industry events. Ms. Dunne has written extensively about search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.