back to article Feeling virtuous with a good old paperback? Well, don't. Switching to traditional media does not improve mood

Those attempting a digital detox might settle down with a paper book in the assumption they are nurturing their well-being. But the benefits of traditional versus new media are not as clear as received wisdom leads us to believe. This is according to researchers that found steering clear of digital media such as games and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    f(X) == f(Y) for some f()

    So the sum total of this research is that, the state of the group that likes Xing is overall the same as the state of the group that likes Ying. o k .

    Let's try X = crochet and Y = carving wood. Yep, that works. How about Y = cooking and X = jetskiing. That works too. Gosh!

    If instead what they were trying to say is that people who like Zing will claim that's superior to Xing or Ying, hey, thanks for noticing human foibles.

    However, If they were implying that X was just as good as Y for everybody, not on your life. That's even more rude than Z-fanboyism!

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: f(X) == f(Y) for some f()

      Fully agree there! And when comparing a proper book with the electronic equivalent then the physical book wins hands down - e-readers just don't have the right smell - give me a well-thumbed paperback any day!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: f(X) == f(Y) for some f()

        That's the nostalgia effect :-)

        In years to come, some people get the same effect from sitting down with their ancient Kindle :-)

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          A book is an entirely different experience. An e-reader is a slab of plastic and glass. There is nothing especially pleasing about touching it. Of course, what you read on it is just as engrossing as a book, but you're still holding an inert object (which is still incredibly useful if you're on a trip - you just can't lug around a suitcase full of books, but an e-reader is the equivalent in your pocket).

          A book is almost a living thing. Pages are tactile, and they keep trace of how you treat them. A well-read book is full of little scars, places where the page tip is folded because the reader was too fast in turning it. Looking at the state of a book is almost reading into its own history.

          I read on a screen all day long. I'm a programmer so, if I'm not coding, I'm probably looking for a tip or a solution to a specific problem, or consulting the manual for a specific function, or on the lookout for news in my domain of expertise. I'm looking at screens from 7 in the morning to around midnight every day.

          If I want to take a break from that, I want a book. A good old-fashion dead tree compendium that I can cherish and treat with respect, while letting my mind wander its universe.

          But that's just my opinion.

      2. SundogUK Silver badge

        Re: f(X) == f(Y) for some f()

        If your enjoyment of a book is driven more by the format it comes in rather than the actual words you should probably give up and watch a movie.

    2. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: f(X) == f(Y) for some f()

      I believe there's a theorem about that.

      (Well not quite, but same ballpark.)

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: f(X) == f(Y) for some f()

        Paperback and Kindle (when not back-lit) are read under ambient light (once incandescent, now likely LED). Phones and TVs can produce blue light than can disrupt circadian rhythms.

        However, phones have got better at not producing undesirable light frequencies, and light bulbs have generally got worse in the switch to LED (most supermarkets only stock the cheapest LEDs with poor CRI values).

        Buy better LED bulbs for any room you spend time in.

  2. msobkow Silver badge

    I do like a good read before bed; it is a different type of distraction and entertainment than I enjoy during the day, so it kind of signals the ol' brain-pan that it is almost time for bed.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    books vs screens

    This work misses the point about screen-based stuff though.

    (a) it's bad for you late at night because of blue light radiation

    (b) it's good for you because it improves hand-eye coordination.

    1. Synkronicity

      Re: books vs screens

      Blue light radiation is an incredibly overblown issue that will not impact your sleep any more than anything else that is used in lieu of sleep. I've blown past sleep schedules because a paperback had a really exciting chapter that causes me to keep reading and to think about what I've read long into the night. Removing blue light from a phone will not help you sleep better, not using the phone will.

      1. stuartnz

        Re: books vs screens

        Also, there is no blue light radiation from an e-ink reader. El Reg forums are definitely NOT a warm and welcoming place for those of us who love e-ink readers. The active antipathy toward them is actually quite surprising given that it's likely a lot of El Reg users are, like me, in the 50+ demographic which is the bastion of e-reader use. For me, reading on my Kobo is MUCH more comfortable than dead tree books - especially when reading books in the 600-1200 page range. But that's just my personal preference, not an assumption of superiority, such as is often made by those who eschew e-readers.

        1. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

          Re: books vs screens

          I've never understood the vitriol some folk direct at e-readers (I wonder if they are the same people who get so incensed at the existence of electric cars). I have hundreds of paper books but I wouldn't be without my Kobo; it fits nicely in the coat pocket, so I'm never stuck for something to do on the bus or if I'm the first one to the pub. The newer ones also dynamically change to a warmer backlight at night, so I can read in bed without incurring the wrath of the missus.

          1. NATTtrash Silver badge

            Re: books vs screens

            Too obvious if stating:

            I don't care HOW you read it, do about WHAT you're reading?

            Elitism or not, let me be so recalcitrant to say that on screen (FB?) news feeds are NOT in the same category as a "normal, old fashioned" newspaper. Whether the latter is digital or not.

            (Yes, I know, we have "nice" ones there too, which ever way you swing. But distinguish yourself and see the larger picture...)

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: books vs screens

              I'm curious about other aspects of elitism. So I remember the Harry Potter hype and the number of people reading that on my commute. And then 50SoG, which might have been read more furtively. But I guess there could be some element of social networking (or engineering) based on being able to see what people are reading.

              For me, it's the convenience though. I have around 600 books on my Kindle, which would translate to a lot of shelf-feet. And no CCS payment for sequestering carbon. Most of it is fiction, but also a bunch of reference books for portable knowledge. I think I still prefer real books simply for navigation.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: books vs screens

                "And no CCS payment for sequestering carbon. "

                Really? Your reader works by magic?

                Paper is absolute carbon neutral product, every gram of carbon it has, is taken from air. Almost all of the carbon needed to make it, is also taken from the air.

                And the finest part of it: if you *don't* use the tree to make paper out of it, all the C it collected, is circulated when the tree rots. So paper is literally removing C from circulation.

                Totally unlike plastic and electronics used in e-readers. Using CO2 as an argument for e-reader isn't really flying at all.

                But other things.

                Having 600 books in one device means you lose all of them when the device eventually and inevitably breaks down. Or you lose your reader. Same problem, in lesser extent, applies to phones: When your digital personality is tied to phone, losing the phone means you cease to exist. Or, even worse, someone else is now you.

                That's a real problem when you try to recover from it.

                Also carrying whole library with you seems really odd, digital or otherwise: Reading a book takes a good while so not many needed for a trip.

                Then there's the cost and digital restrictions imposed to said books.

                E-books tend to cost the same as paperbacks, +-10%. That's way too much for bunch of bits and aftermarket is basically zero because of DRM: You can't resell any of your books. Or buy used books at $2 from thrift store. Even less getting them free from a book exchange.

                One Kindle costs about 50 to 100 (used) books, it's even more expensive than large bookshelf.

                Format of a e-reader is one page (of a paperback) or some part of that, that's not much. Hard cover version have larger font and larger page. At cost, of course, but you usually can buy one. No book covers, no cover art, just plain text. Not really significant, but still cons.

                Screens (all of them) have nasty glare and are specifially picky about lightning and resolution is far less than what print produces. Kindle isn't light either, it weighs about the same as a hard cover book printed on good paper, so you need a surface to put it for reading.

                Then there's' the browsing ...Not too bad page by page but try to have a peek at index in the middle of reading and it gets complicated. Having a one page display has it's limitations.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: books vs screens

          I now basically exclusively read on an e-reader... Having the ability to bump the font size is really valuable.

        3. adam 40 Silver badge

          Kobo themselves would tend to disagree

          ComfortLight PRO is only available for:

          Kobo Sage

          Kobo Libra 2

          From Kobo's own website:

          Kobo Libra H2O

          Kobo Forma

          Kobo Clara HD

          Kobo Aura H2O Edition 2

          Kobo Aura ONE

          ComfortLight PRO gradually changes the colour of the screen over the course of the day to make reading more comfortable.

          During the day, the screen displays a small amount of blue light. As the day progresses, the light gradually changes to an orange candlelight, and contains less blue. Blue light helps keep you alert during the day, but can also keep you awake at night.

          ComfortLight PRO limits the amount of blue light exposure at night and can help you fall asleep more easily.


          So - it depends what model you have, and the time of day setting, and even then, the blue light output is only _limited_..

  4. Blackjack Silver badge

    I tend to strain my eyes less with a paper book and finish books faster. But I guess that's not the same for everyone.

    1. Giles C Silver badge

      I prefer paper books, and magazines, and an actual printed newspaper.

      Besides if reading in bed and you fall asleep a paperback might hit you or the floor, neither of which will damage it.

      But a tablet or ebook reader doesn’t tend to like being dropped.

      Mind you I don’t have phones in the bedroom and use an alarm clock instead.

      1. msobkow Silver badge

        Tablets and eReaders also really hate it when you roll over on top of them in your sleep...

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          They're not too keen when you sit on them while pulling on your socks either!

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Some of the books I read will damage me. Its got a lot worse since I discovered I can order large print books from the library for free! These are ideal for reading in bed as they are still legible in low light but they tend to be hardbacks and you nod off with them above you can blind and if they just rest in your hand as you doze cause all sorts of elbow complaints!

  5. Paul Herber Silver badge

    I've actually got my wife to do some reading during lockdown. Previously she looked down her nose at my book collection but she has now read a selection of Tom Sharpe, some Orwell, the entire Clan of the Cave Bear series and is now working her way though the Narnian cornucopia. And enjoying them but not happy to admit it. LOTR next or Dune? Flying pig squadron are ready and waiting ...

    1. Giles C Silver badge

      LOTR is lighter going than dune.

      I got some strange looks in a bookshop a few weeks ago when I pointed out that the latest dune film only covers half the first book.

      There seem to be a lot of dune spin-off books I haven’t read - maybe that will be next after the pile that is waiting. Which is currently by the following authors

      Jodi Taylor

      Genevieve Cogman

      Tad Williams

      Peter F Hamilton

      And a few more I need to go and find

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "I got some strange looks in a bookshop a few weeks ago when I pointed out that the latest dune film only covers half the first book."

        I was actually surprised and a little taken aback that it ended where it did. I was actually quite engrossed in it, felt almost as if big chunks of the story had been skipped over and then all of a sudden two and half hours had just disappeared in what seemed like only about an hour. I had a feeling of being short changed and was disappointed the rest of the story was missing. To me, that's the sign of a decent film, whatever else the critics might say about it, the acting or whatever :-)

      2. SundogUK Silver badge

        Regarding Dune: stick with the original 6. The last three aren't great but are works of art compared to the crap his son has written since.

        1. Blackjack Silver badge


          Is sad Dune has not aged well on some things. And that there is no good adaptation.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        It's a dystopian future.

        Wouldn't be much dystopia if everyone was treated well.

      2. DuncanLarge

        > The beginning alone is basically child abuse done in the name of training.

        What do you want on an alien planet where they do things in a very alien way?

        Care bears?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Previously she looked down her nose at my book collection but she has now read a selection of Tom Sharpe..."

      She probably wasn't impressed by your outbursts of sniggering out loud over the murderous ha-ha but now understands

  6. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

    A good time period to study?

    "well-being levels of 2,159 UK adults between April and May 2020"

    Hmm, April and May 2020? As I recall there was some pretty major disruptions to all our lives happening round about then, that might just have swamped any effect on personal wellbeing due to choosing between a real book and an ebook.

    1. Alistair

      Re: A good time period to study?

      Whew. At least *someone* else spotted the terrible flaw in this study. Personally, the state of the world in that time frame was such that it *very* well could have affected overall states of mind of a large portion of this quite small study.

      Honestly, I cannot find this study effective analysis of the data, both due to the background "radiation" from the pandemic at the time, and due to the size/length of the study.

      I started reading rather early. Early enough that in grade 1 I had to put my Nero Wolf down to read my two pages of Mr Muggs aloud with the rest of my class. Dead trees. Period. I've tried 8 different e-readers and *none* work out as well for me.

      Two of my youngest's classmates (They're in 10th grade) had never actually sat in a comfy chair and read from a dead tree product until they met the youngest. Both are now addicted to the books, not the locally preferred adhd medication. That took 4 years, but it did change things for the youngsters.

      Someone mentioned CotCB above and their wife diving into it, I can firmly attest that any female I've pointed at that series who has actually read it was thrilled with it..... except perhaps one book in the series.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: A good time period to study?

        "Whew. At least *someone* else spotted the terrible flaw in this study. Personally, the state of the world in that time frame was such that it *very* well could have affected overall states of mind of a large portion of this quite small study."

        On the other hand, things like stress, depression and other emotional states were more emphasised so possibly the effect of different coping methods might be more pronounced. Maybe in a more normal time, the difference would be even less noticeable.

    2. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: A good time period to study?

      Yes, therefore the whole study is suspicious.

  7. cornetman Silver badge

    I seem to remember reading about some research that showed that we read differently when we use a display and when we read from a book, that we read more passively when consuming material electronically compared to a more active engagement when reading from a traditional paper book.

    I forget where the research was from unfortunately, but it did strongly suggest that giving students iPads instead of them learning from traditional books was a misguided idea.

    1. msobkow Silver badge

      I think that tends to be the case more for screen reading as opposed to a tablet or eReader. Screen reading fills your vision with a display quite some distance from your face, brightly lit. The tablet and eReader are neither as bright nor as large, allowing your eyes to focus on a variety of things in your visual field, not just the display.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "I think that tends to be the case more for screen reading as opposed to a tablet or eReader. Screen reading fills your vision with a display quite some distance from your face, brightly lit. The tablet and eReader are neither as bright nor as large, allowing your eyes to focus on a variety of things in your visual field, not just the display."

        "Don't st so close to the telly! You'll get square eyes!". Many of us will remember that phrase from childhood, or may even have used it with our own children. And yet here we are today, many of us spending many hours per day about 50cm from a screen often little smaller than the TV of our childhood, often even bigger!

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "It also shows those who engaged with music, television, films, and video games tended to have lower happiness and higher anxiety levels than those who did not."

    It might depend on the subject matter. As far as I'm concerned even the opening tymp beats of the Beethoven violin concerto lower stress instantly; by the time the soloist enters all is serene. OTOH There's a lot of crap out there masquerading as music (of all genres) which would drive me up the wall.

    Trying to read their paper does seem to lower happiness. Maybe I'm reading it on the wrong medium.

  9. cookieMonster

    My 2c

    For Christmas I got the Asimov Foundation trilogy, dead tree edition.

    It is so much more pleasant a medium to hold, turn the pages, the feel of it etc.

    I have hundreds of titles in electronic format, but the physical connection is sterile.

    I read a few chapters each evening, it’s genuinely a treat to have a physical and mental disconnect from an electronic device.

    Maybe because I’m just getting old, but for pleasure, I prefer paper books.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: My 2c

      I tried re-reading my original paperbacks not long ago only to discover they are now a pack of cards!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: My 2c

        Yes, some of my 50+ year old paperbacks, most of which were 2nd hand even when I bought them back in the 70's, some from 50's or earlier, have suffered a similar fate where the binding glue has degraded to yellowish powder.

        One place I worked at many years ago, we had a heat binder. Basically a device whereby you wrapped a pre-clued cover around your pages, dropped it in and glue melted to bind it into a book form. I did "repair" a few paperback back then simply by remelting the existing glue. Not sure if it'll work again all these years later though. Not sure I've ever seen such a device since then anyway.

        1. Fred Dibnah

          Re: My 2c

          I have a nice set of Thomas Hardy paperbacks in slip cases that I bought in the 70s, and looked after even to the nerdy extent of making sure I didn't crease the spines. The other day I decided to re-read them, but the text is so small that my aged eyes found it v. unpleasant. So I resorted to the Gutenberg Project and put them on my Kobo. It's not so nice but at least I can read them without a headache.

          I suppose it's the book equivalent of owning the CD but listening to it on your <insert music streaming system of choice here>.

  10. Twanky Silver badge

    Study hopes to take the elitism out media consumption

    Erm. The 'study', such as it is, should report its findings. If it hopes to do anything other than test an hypothesis it's a crap study.

  11. spold Silver badge

    I have found traditional physical media far more effective for swatting flies and annoying junior consultants..... a successful outcome in either does improve your mood.

    (Apologies if you are are a veggie-flyi-swotytaraian or something... not so much for the junior consultants (been one)).


  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can we just stuff

    all this "wellness" shit? It's all just a load of bollocks.

    All it attracts is funding for whoever comes up with the latest pseudo intellectual sounding bullshit.

    If people are using and enjoying what ever media they are using to "consume their content", then they are "happy and well".

    Full Stop.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Can we just stuff

      Be quiet!

      If the 'concerned' find out its all bulshit, they'll stop funding the research and we'll all have to go find real jobs...

      Although they wont put funding into my twin theories of motivation for working

      (in other words... some cattleprod batteries for the operators/manglement and some beer for me)

    2. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: Can we just stuff

      @Idiot and @Boris

      The 'Limitations' section of the Nature article reporting the research makes interesting reading. If I have read this correctly, the study omitted social media.

      The authors of the study also provide the original dataset, so some attempt at binning by age may be possible although the statistical errors in cross tabbing may be large as N=2k or so for the whole study.

  13. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    The absolute overriding benefit of e readers

    As a youth, i spent a significant portion of my income on books.

    Over time, my collection has grown, and requires a large amount of storage space in the house, Fortunately, we no longer need to move, but my partner did a reorganisation which I still have not fixed, so my dead tree library is currently scrambled.

    I mostly work 'Fly-in, Fly-out', where I spend a couple of weeks at a remote 'camp', then a week off back in civilisation.. repeat ad infinitum..

    Back before E books i would be carrying half a dozen paperbacks every trip, in my limited luggage space.

    These days I have access to the entire online portion of my library, and can get new books even when I am at site.

    The sheer convenience of having books available on my phone - not even a separate e-reader device, becomes the difference between having a book or not having a book.

    1. ICam

      Re: The absolute overriding benefit of e readers

      It's somewhat similar for me. I'm travelling and carry an Android phone (old first generation Moto G), a laptop (Lenovo Thinkpad X201) and a Kindle (an old e-ink version with no back light or touch screen).

      All those devices have different uses for me. Because I have the laptop, I don't use the phone as much as other people might; it's mostly just useful as a camera and for navigation, with occasional use of banking apps and Facebook/Twitter or for information while on the move. The laptop is a much better experience for web browsing than the phone and much better for me for typing with. I also find the laptop preferable for watching video content with its larger screen.

      I have about 50 to 60 books on my Kindle at the moment, some of them paid for, but many from Project Gutenberg. For me it's worthwhile to have the Kindle, not only for its ability to store a lot of books, but for its battery life. The lack of a back light and running it in aircraft mode pretty much all the time means it will last much much longer than a phone. Sometimes I have regretted the lack of a back light - in India I don't think I ever travelled on a night/sleeper bus that had working reading lamps! Other than that, it's a great device for me. I also like its portability - I can squeeze it into a cargo pocket of a pair of shorts if necessary, but it will easily fit into many waist or shoulder mounted little bags that are also useful for chucking other crap into as well.

      Unlike other people who have commented here, I do not get any greater satisfaction from reading a traditional book; as far I'm concerned, reading a good book is reading a good book.

  14. nijam Silver badge

    It was ever thus.

    "The new stuff is bad for you. The old stuff is good for you."

    In Jane Austen's time, reading novels was believed to be bad for you. When cinema came along, it was bad for you, and books were good. When TV came along, it was bad for you, and cinema was good. When video games came along, they were bad for you... (spotting a pattern here?)

    Never any evidence to support any of it, of course.

    1. Geoffrey W

      Thinking anything is bad for you is probably bad for you.

  15. Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day

    This ain't science

    Despite what the authors may try to tell you, Communications and Economics or any other social "science" is not a real science.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This ain't science

      As so many other things marketed as 'science'.

      If you have several unproven theories for same thing, you don't have science. (Economics)

      if you don't even have a proven theory, you don't have science. (everything from Climatology to Psychology).

      Also: Research isn't (yet) science. Reseach tells you what you have, theory explains *why* you have it. And what happens next. Usually in a form of a formula.

      Then you make predictions/calculations based on theory and if those predictions are correct, you can claim you've a proven theory. *That's* science.

      Anything less and it's literally educated guess or just data. Data alone doesn't mean anything: Once it's explained by a proven theory it's part of science.

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