It'll be remembered longer on paper.
Paper stands the test of time.
We have printed documents dating back over two millennia that can still be read and enjoyed today. No system upgrades or hard drive crashes can prevent us from going to a museum and viewing the original Dead Sea Scrolls or Leonardo da Vinci’s hand-drawn Vitruvian Man. And there are no multiple versions of Beethoven’s symphonies to confuse us, just his precious handwritten scores.
The timelessness of paper is not reserved for the world’s great masterpieces. That scrapbook marking the special milestones in your life or those treasured handwritten notes tucked away in your keepsake box enjoy the same longevity – and continue to give you pleasure every time you see them. But seeing them is just part of the experience. You can also hold these precious memories in your hand, eliciting emotions no computer screen can. The Greeting Card Association (GCA) has researched the emotional bond associated with handwritten messages and found that nearly one-third of respondents to a national survey said they keep the special cards they receive “forever.”1
That said, it’s not just your heart that understands the power of paper, so does your mind. A number of studies have been conducted on the efficacy of learning on screen compared to paper, and it has been proven that paper is a better tool for fully assimilating information. Researchers at Cambridge University based this conclusion on a number of factors ranging from the ease and speed of visually/spatially locating content on a printed page compared to a screen, to the distractions of reading online, and the functionality of a screen-based document compared to a printed version (e.g. note taking, document sharing).2
Anne Magnan, a Norwegian researcher publishing in the Journal of Research in Reading, declared: “The feeling of literally being in touch with the text is lost when your actions – clicking with the mouse, pointing on touch screens, or scrolling with keys or on touch pads – takes place at a distance from the digital text, which is somehow, somewhere inside the computer, the e-book or the mobile phone. Materiality matters... One main effect of the intangibility of the digital text is that of making us read in a shallower, less focused way.”3 And, according to the experts at Cambridge, less focus speaks to a lack of full understanding and compromises long-term retention of information.
University-level students have also participated in studies to assess whether traditional textbooks are still the way to go, or if an e-book or pdf lecture notes serve them better in their academic pursuits. A recent example is the Kindle DX experiment conducted by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, which revealed that 75-80% of its MBA students using the device would not recommend it for in-class learning. They felt the eReader was too rigid for use in the fast-paced classroom environment, noting that you can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs simply or easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.4
An earlier pilot study at Princeton University concluded that the classroom experience was “somewhat worsened” by using an eReader compared to printed textbooks.5 Participating students admitted that the absence of paper documents made group discussions difficult and that it was hard to go back and review e-materials later in the semester. They also felt that the inability to efficiently take notes on an e-book lessened retention.
Based on the work of researchers from around the world, one could draw a parallel between the relative permanence of paper and how long the memories you get from it last. While the screen is by nature more illusory, paper remains with you as long as you want it to. So whether you think you might be a 21st century Great Master, the next Dan Brown or even if you’re just a fan of the personalized note or an avid scrapbooker, your work can leave a lasting impression in the minds and hearts of your friends and fans.
1 The Greeting Card Association
2 A Comparison of Reading Paper and On-Line Documents, Kenton O’Hara and Abigail Sellen, Rank Xerox Research Centre in Cambridge, 1997.
3 I Screen, You Screen, We All Screen, Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
4 Darden Shares Results of Kindle Experiment.
5 Princeton University, the E-reader Pilot at Princeton, Fall 2009