Naomi Baron reports, in a talk to the New York Book Forum, that during the pandemic there has been a shift in students’ attitudes toward reading on screen. 23 minutes into her video talk she tells us that two thirds of responders said they get tired reading a lot on a digital screen and 53% missed reading more print.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Professor Baron’s research shows not only that comprehension and test results are better when print-based, but that students also prefer print to screen reading. I’m delighted to accept her findings, and to suppress my suspicions that if you ask students about how they’d prefer to read their study materials the answer will always be in some way, any way, please, please, any way which is different from the way we now have to do it! Best would be not having to read at all, or even better, study at all!

But what the optimal methodology may or may not be is probably irrelevant. I dare say sitting with a philosopher, well let’s not tip-toe around the issue, sitting there with Aristotle himself and going through the text of Nicomachean Ethics word by word with him might be the “best” way to understand the work, but frustratingly this methodology isn’t available to most of us. At the end of the day we study what we study in the ways we can. And if we can study Nicomachean Ethics by accessing it free online instead of going out in the wind and rain and plonking down a few dollars to buy a printed copy, I suspect that’s what most of us are going to do. We don’t live in a “chose the ideal” world, we live in a “whatever works” one. And nobody can argue that reading Aristotle in any which way is better than refusing to read Aristotle because you can’t persuade him to sit with you, or because you don’t own a copy of the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy edition.

I’ve written about Professor Baron’s research before.