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To truly grasp the printed word, you gotta hold it

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For several years now, I've read the daily news online, by passing the paper edition altogether. When I first made the switch, it felt utterly liberating. No papers hung around waiting to be read or recycled. The newspaper pile was gone, freeing up valuable real estate in my home. So, too, fingers once blackened with ink were now free to roam the keyboard. Point here, click there, and an article of my choosing would materialize onscreen. The efficiency of it all was breathtaking.

When I canceled my subscription to the hard-copy edition of the newspaper, I never looked back - that is, until a recent morning. I opened my e-mail headlines from the daily paper and spotted a half-dozen stories of interest. As I looked at the articles, however, I found that several were fairly long. Suddenly I felt a sense of dread, as if reading had become a form of punishment.

And there's the rub. For anything beyond casual browsing or skimming, I think I may hate the computer.

My uncertainty merely reflects the thoroughness of my self-imposed brainwashing. For efficiency's sake, I had lulled myself into thinking that reading is the same regardless of the medium. A newspaper story is a newspaper story, whether it sits on newsprint or scrolls down a screen.

This might be true, were it not for the hyperclarity of screens these days. But the same vividness that makes computers excel at certain tasks may actually impede the goal of reading.

When we look at books and newspapers in print, we're used to seeing creamy off-whites, dull grays, and print that's more complementary than contrasting. In effect, the clarity of the screen may be altogether too jarring, even after adjusting for brightness. They never told us that better screens don't necessarily make for better reading.

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