A couple weeks back, my wife Marina and I were talking about the Kindle we share. She made an interesting observation: Although she loves the convenience of the thing and enjoys reading books on it, she doesn't remember what she reads on it nearly as well as a regular book.
I thought that was pretty insightful -- it rang true to me. I often buy books -- both for pleasure and research -- on the Kindle and also find reading on the Kindle to be just fine (although I prefer books because of the the tactile experience). But I've figured out that if I am using the book for my writing and research, especially for a long-term writing project, I need to have a physical copy someplace nearby where I see the cover now and then. Otherwise, I forget about it.
This means that I often buy two copies of a book --one for the Kindle and the other to stack next to my computer. I often am too impatient to wait for the book to come in the mail or to go to the bookstore, so I buy on the Kindle, and then buy a hard copy if I like it. I need a copy of the book to remind of what I've learned and might need -- something I reinforce it by flipping through each of the 30 or so books I keep in stacks all around me (and the stack of 100 or so articles I've printed out as well) to remind me of stuff I need to remember.
Perhaps it is just Marina and me, but I started wondering if there was any research on the differences between how well people remember things they read in digital versus paper form. I did a quick look and didn't find any, but in doing so, I recalled a conversation that Jeff Pfeffer and I had with Google's Larry Page in (I think) 2002 (We did an interview with him and then had lunch; this was before Google was a public company.). At one point in the conversation, when we asked him about obstacles to Google's success, he said something quite interesting: Research shows that people read considerably slower when they read things on a screen than in paper form. I recall him saying 15% to 20% -- a number supported by research done a few years earlier).
I nosed around the web a bit and found some 2010 research on tablets versus books by Jakob Nielsen that confirmed Larry's point persists in the modern era-- although it looks like the difference between screens and books is less than the research Larry was talking about. Here is the report and I reprint the key findings:
Results: Books Faster Than Tablets
The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print. However, the difference between the two devices was not statistically significant because of the data's fairly high variability.
Thus, the only fair conclusion is that we can't say for sure which device offers the fastest reading speed. In any case, the difference would be so small that it wouldn't be a reason to buy one over the other.
But we can say that tablets still haven't beaten the printed book: the difference between Kindle and the book was significant at the p<.01 level, and the difference between iPad and the book was marginally significant at p=.06.
This research doesn't dig into reading comprehension, let alone longer-term memory. But that nearly 11% difference is quite substantial when you think about how much many of us read. And, perhaps I am being sentimental, but it is lovely to see that those old-fashioned books still have an evidence-based edge!
What do you think? Do you feel like you read slower and recall less when you read on screen versus real paper? And is this an affliction only suffered by me and perhaps other other old-timers who learned to read on paper alone?
P.S. If you want to nerd out, I just found a pretty detailed review of this stuff, and it does look like that, as computer screens are getting better (and more people grow up reading on them) that the paper advantage is narrowing and in some cases going away -- although as the above study suggests paper still has the upper hand on key tasks.
A couple weeks back, I was listening to Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air interview one of the Twitter founders, Biz Stone. He mentioned the concept of "email bankruptcy," that sometimes -- just as with having so many debts that you can't pay, and declaring bankruptcy in hopes of moving forward with a clean slate --sometimes the best thing to do is to alert all the people in your electronic world that you are declaring email bankruptcy and are starting fresh, and to offere some kind of apoligy for getting so far behind. Apparently this notion of email bankrputcy has been around for awhile (see here and here). Author Sherry Trukle joked that a book she is working on would have taken half the time if she didn't have email and that she had some 2500 unanswered emails.
The concept of email bankruptcy really hit home to me because my situation is similar to what Sherry Turkle describes. And it is no joke to me. I am struggling to make progress on a new book with Huggy Rao on scaling (see this little story in HBR), but as of early last week I had about 3000 unanswered emails in my inbox. Note that I feel great obligation to answer all of them, especially emails from readers. But so many have been coming in that I fell way behind. And things were even worse when it came to emails about things like administrative chores and expenses. Well, I have spent much of the past week digging out (two cross-country plane flights with wifi helped a lot) and am down to 400 in my inbox. But my plans to make serious progress on our book last week are shot and I am worried that the 100 to 200 or so emails a day I get will soon drive me back to the edge of bankruptcy.
I am trying certain strategies. There are certain kinds of emails I have stopped answering, such as requests to advertise on my blog or people who don't me but are asking for some kind rather extreme favor (It just amazes me how often I get emails from people whom I have never met asking them to endorse their business in some way... last week a publicist sent a choice of three endorsements for her client's company -- note I never met or had heard of the client or company. I eventually figured out the client was a twitter follower.). I am also trying to use filters and blocking more aggressively. At the same time, however, I don't want to block-out or ignore all the people who write me about their sometimes heartwarming and sometimes horrible stories. Clearly, there is a line to walk here. But I am feeling like the temptations of NOW are winning out too often over the more important if less vivid and exciting need to work on stuff that will be done LATER.
I was thinking -- as I am leave from Stanford this year and have fewer administrative pressures than usual -- about occassionally taking a 72 hour vacation from my email. Perhaps I will try that next week or the week after. But I am not sure that will work (check out John Lilly's post on trying to disconnect). I would love your suggestions here -- what works for you? Has anyone declared email bankruptcy or taken vacations? How do you draw the line between emails you ignore versus answer?
P.S. Even though it is Saturday morning, when I started this post perhaps 15 minutes ago, there were 398 emails in my inbox (whittled down from about 3000). Now there are 407.
So much for my well-placed well sources. You may call that I wrote a post last week asking if it was true that GE blocks Work Matters. I got message from Mark Guthrie, who serves as Global Personnel Realtions Manager at GE. Mark reports:
FYI: I am a colleague of Max Brown ... last night over dinner he mentioned you were looking for confirmation regarding internal-to-GE access to your website / blog. Max forwarded me your link and I was granted immediate access via the GE server. I used the "email me" tab to shoot you this note. I hope this helps.
Mark, thanks for clearing this up, and Max, thanks for your help.
P.S. I try to check my facts when I post things on this blog, but this is a reminder not to believe everything I write here. And it is a reminder to me that staying paranoid, and even gewtting more paranoid, about fact-checking is wise.
I suppose that I should have known this was going on, but I just got an email titled "Sponsoring a blog post," which says:
My name is Samantha and I work for a management consulting
firm. We are currently in the process of growing our online presence and would
like to know if we would be able to sponsor your upcoming post. The sponsorship
is not a product review but rather a mention within the body or the byline of
the post. Do you think we would be able to work something out?
I was a bit taken aback, as this something that would never occur to me to do or to accept. But I guess it is a little like product placements in movies or TV. Has anyone heard more about this practice? Am I being too touchy in my negative reaction?
P.S. Samantha used a gmail address and did not say what firm it was.
I have taken my sweet time trying learning about twitter but I finally am beginning to make the plunge. Tim Keely (who does a great job of helping me with all things IT, I would be lost without him) and I are going to be messing with this blog a bit to weave Twitter into this blog over the next couple months, and is always the case, I expect it will take me awhile to understand how to use this in ways that are fun and useful.
My user name is work_matters.
If you have any advice about how to use this thing, especially to link people to my blog, please let me know. Thanks! I will tweet this post, which will be, I think, my fourth one.