When I read, I cognitively map.

I have some sad news for that little person inside me who was doing everything she could to find an excuse to purchase a Kindle.

According to a recent study done by the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, e-readers are better as supplementary devices since most of them don’t work well with the human brain.

A breakdown of the problem is as follows:

  • poor note-taking support
  • limited/cumbersome skimming capabilities
  • more difficult to look up references
  • digital text disrupts cognitive mapping

For some of you, this may not be an issue, but for me, this is a huge issue.  One of the main drawbacks of an e-reader for me was the fact that I would not be able to annotate by hand.  Mind you, I’m the girl who purchased a smaller laptop to “study better by saving trees and taking notes in class” who ended up printing out a gazillion pdfs (to be fair, I put 4 sheets a page, front and back.  I think I killed my eyes though) and taking notes longhand anyway.  So yeah, I guess one study confirms that this is indeed a bit bothersome.  Yet, I thought maybe this was an obstacle I could overcome – just like the way I would overcome the way the Kindle’s digital page peskily blinks every time it “turns”.  (A coworker assured me that I would get used to it in no time)!

But, the main issue lies with the function of cognitive mapping.
The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.
Yes, this is a problem for me.  I know when I read, I need to stay on the same book.  For example, when I read the Bible, if it’s not one of my personal Bibles, I have a difficult time finding verses and references that I’ve known for ages.  I thought this was because I’m partly a “visual person” or maybe I just had some sort of a physical book fetish, but now, I see that the correct term is that I am a cognitive mapper (and so is the rest of the population).  Being able to relate information to physical cues help a lot.

There are still other reasons to purchase a Kindle though, mind you (recreational, mainly).  It’s just that the academic reason is now out the window.  Even if they add more interactive/multimedia content (which probably wouldn’t happen for a while), I’m sure the pen and paper wins.  (My current laptop has a touch screen+pen, and works relatively well; I use it only sometimes…)

Or perhaps, I’m expecting too much from the Kindle?  Why not use it with a supplementary notebook on hand?  It is still lighter, reduces waste paper use, and conveniently holds all my texts in one teeny location.  Plus, I could read the news and do crossword puzzles!  Okay, this last bit doesn’t really add to this conversation now, does it?


2 responses to “When I read, I cognitively map.

  1. “…reduces waste paper use, and conveniently holds all my texts in one teeny location.”

    Were you planning to read lots of pdf’s or put textbooks on your Kindle?

    • I am anticipating a lot of pdfs for school next year, since a lot of stuff we’ll read are probably articles and other isolated studies. Probably not textbooks though.

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