Digital technology or printed work

Progress is key 

Which is more practical, a three pound laptop or 300 pounds of textbooks? The digital age’s innovations have touched every corner of our lives, and the techniques and mentalities of old have given way to the relentless march of technological progress.

While the leaps and bounds made by technology, especially in the 21st century, haven’t always been met with universal acclaim, it would be unfair for us as students to say that technology hasn’t helped us. Students work on group assignments with Google Drive, conduct research with the internet and use online textbooks in tandem with real textbooks. The educational landscape has been profoundly changed by technology, and it has mostly been for the better.

The convenience of being able to write on the same document with several other people in real time has drastically increased the speed at which students can collaborate on group projects. Search engines aggregate and provide users content at speeds that libraries can’t match. Online textbooks provide a way for students to access their study materials without carrying heavy books to and from school. Technological progress has provided students with easier and more efficient ways to study and work, and as time passes, it will become more and more common for students to fully harness the power of modern technology.

This generation is the first to have lived their entire lives with computers and cellphones. While older generations may have had issues adapting from using printed text to digital displays, the use of devices to read and write is now a dominant force in today’s internet-based society. Note taking has become an increasingly digital activity, and ebooks are just as if not more popular than printed books. The quick adoption of digital media can be explained by the advantages it provides over printed media. Digital books are far more convenient to access than paper books, and writing via keyboard is much quicker than a traditional pen and paper. As children of the digital age grow up, resistance to the changes digital media bring will dissipate. As society advances, the tradition of printed media will be overtaken by digital media, which is proven to be more convenient and easier to use.

While some people may prefer the look or feel of paper over a screen, digital media is still a viable way to read. Dedicated e-readers store the information of hundreds of printed books in packages small enough to be held in one hand. Modern day cloud services allow materials to be accessed on multiple devices at the same time without having to bring printed copies. Information that used to take hundreds of individual pages to store now takes up a trivial amount of hard drive space. The ease of access that using a device to read provides could never be replicated by paper media, which is limited by the physical constraints of existence.

Change has always been uncomfortable. Just like the switch from stone tablets to leatherbound books, the switch from paper to digital media marks a sort of uneasy turning point for humanity. But fears about the new and unknown will always exist, just like the benefits using new technology will grant us. All throughout history, those that have properly utilized new technology have reaped the benefits of it. But each new generation of people are faced with the same question: whether or not the adoption of new technology will ultimately be good. If we look at what is to be gained from the adoption of digital media, the answer should be a resounding yes.

Tangible results 

We are in the age of digital media. Everywhere we look, people are reading, studying and writing on their phones and laptops. In many schools, electronic devices such as Chromebooks are slowly being integrated into how teachers educate the population. However, as we progress more in technology, we must also take a step back and evaluate what is lost in every advancement that we make.

Digital text has been shown to impair our reading comprehension. According to a research survey done by Dr. Patricia Alexander, an educational psychologist at the University of Maryland, and graduate student Lauren Singer, students who read a printed text can better comprehend the information for deeper learning and analysis. This discrepancy in comprehension can be attributed to various factors: the way the information is being presented and the speed of the reading.

When students are reading text in electronic devices, they are often scrolling down to reveal information as opposed to physically moving their eyes down and turning a page. This can result in what Alexander calls the “disruptive effect,” meaning that the cohesiveness and continuity of ideas is lost. When one is reading on a tangible object, such as a book, the words on the page are fixed, allowing one to have a mental landscape of the ideas as they are reading. For example, when a person wants to remember a certain piece of information in a book, he or she often recalls where in the book he or she found it. The meaning of each paragraph is associated with the space it occupied in the text, and similar to a physical landscape, the brain structures the information in a spatial way. As such, in a printed work, there is a certain order and flow that cannot be replicated digitally. Students are able to see how every paragraph is connected to the other and to the entire essay as a whole because of the fixed and permanent nature of the text. In contrast, in a digital environment, the “pages” flash temporarily before one scrolls down, giving the impression that the words are disjointed and not allowing one to see the paragraph in the context of the whole essay.

Digital text can also inhibit reading comprehension because of the attitudes of students, who often approach digital text with a mindset that is not conducive to learning. Largely because of its association to social media, reading information on a screen is regarded by many students as casual. When people are presented with a digital text on a phone or laptop, many have a tendency to skim the information and to not engage with the text to the same degree as a person presented with printed information. For example, a 2005 survey of 113 people in northern California by Ziming Liu from San Jose State University found that “people reading on screens…spend more time browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords compared to people reading on paper” ( Because many students are accustomed to skimming through disjointed bits of information on digital screens when browsing social media, this mindset can make its way subconsciously into a student’s mind.

In addition, printed text has a certain feeling to it that cannot be matched digitally. Being able to physically touch and turn a page and to able hold a tangible object in one’s hands are important sensory experiences associated with reading and writing. Aside from merely the educational benefit of printed writing, there is also the sentimental value of it — nothing beats the satisfaction of holding an old-fashioned book and of putting pen to paper. For example, in terms of writing, there is a certain human aspect to reading a letter that was handwritten by another person, being able to see the curves of their letters, almost as if a part of their identity was stored in the paper. Furthermore, the format of a tangible printed work, such as a book, is also more intuitive to a person. The words in the page are set as opposed to just a stream of words in a digital environment, giving a sense of structure and continuity, and the pages are all binded in a way that is easily navigable, which gives the reader a different perspective of the entire work. Instead, readers are able to view the entire book as individual pages connected to one whole.

While I may come off as a technology skeptic, I am in no way downplaying the benefits of digital technology. Digitization allows students more convenience in doing their work, and the advent of applications such as Google Documents paves the way for collaboration among educators and students in a way that print can never accomplish. However, there are also benefits for printed work in education, especially for in-depth analysis and long-term learning. I am not advocating for the abolishment of digitization, as such a claim would be unreasonable and unwise. It is clear that the trend of digitization is inevitable. Merely, I am saying that the merits of printed work should be recognized as we continue to adopt more digital technology in our classrooms. It troubles me that digital media may soon completely replace old-fashioned writing and reading because I ultimately still believe in the value of traditional methods of learning.

So as we advance into the future of education, let us not forget the familiar feeling of holding a pencil and a book in our hands. Let us embrace these traditional methods and remember that there is no substitute for good old fashioned paper and pencil.

By Jason Wu and Raymond Dunn, Arts editor and opinion editor 
Photos by Tristan Gonzalez


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