Culture September 17, 2016
Which form of entertainment do you prefer – the satisfaction of turning each page as you vivaciously follow a story, or hearing characters come to life with the sound of someone’s voice?
No one can deny that hearing a story read aloud can be a transfixing experience. From a young age, we listened to our parents read bedtime stories, such as tales of how Max from “Where the Wild Things Are” cries, “Let the wild rumpus start!” And just as any good storyteller would, our parents reenacted the fierce roars and resounding howls of all the animals encountered on Max’s adventure.
In order to experience the same rush we got as children, many men and women listen to recordings of their favorite books on audiotapes. After all, whether its a fairy tale or a memoir, the human voice is able to capture all of a book’s written nuances and bring the characters to life.
So which is better: audiobooks or print books?
With the explosion of the e-reader business, it would seem that audiobooks have taken a back seat to the latest technology, but this is not the case. This is, in part, due to the smart phone capability of audiobook storage. Alexandra Alter of the Wall Street Journal says it’s “creating a new breed of literary omnivores who see narrated books and text as interchangeable.”
When writers and readers at Barnes and Noble were interviewed about their “reading” habits, Sabrina Rojas Weiss said, “When done right, listening to a book is just the same as reading it. Maybe even better in some cases.”
However, not everyone agrees. Brooke Tarnoff says, “In a perfect world without distractions, sure, listening to an audiobook could give you the same experience as reading the words with your own eyes… With a book, if your concentration breaks, you can easily reread that paragraph you accidentally skimmed. But if your mind wanders – or your phone dings – are you always going to rewind to find exactly the point where you lost the narrative?”
While some may argue that how you read is ultimately up to the reader, science says otherwise. The University of Waterloo in Ontario conducted a study on the best way to read and discovered some surprising results. Men and women were asked to read silently from a computer screen, read out loud from the computer screen and listen to a recording. All three methods were applied to the same paragraph from “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
The researchers were looking for mind wandering, memory and interest. They measured mind wandering by an occasional prompt on screen during the reading, memory by true or false questions and interest by participant rating.
When the results were analyzed, it was determined that minds wandered more during the audio recording compared to the silent reading and out loud reading. The study also determined that not only was mind wandering an issue, but also memory and interest. These three factors are inherently tied together when it comes to listening to an audiobook, and on all three accounts, readers lacked the focus, memory and interest that held found during silent and out loud reading.
Both silent reading and out loud reading engage the readers in activity in ways that listening to an audiobook can’t. Silent reading requires the reader to keep pace with the page while out loud reading combines both vocal and visual components that help the reader focus.
Despite concerns brought about by the research done at Waterloo, audiobook sales are on the rise and don’t seem to be declining anytime soon. As the medium of reading continues to shift, will print books be in it for the long haul?
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