MultiGrain Forum: eBooks and Memory

by Tony Horava, University of Ottawa,

I’ve been thinking alot lately about ebooks and memory, esp as we have entered the era of mobile devices in a major way. Memory and reading are intricately bound together. What we read and how we read affects the development of memory – all of us have powerful memories of reading books and the impact on our imagination. Now that we are fully into the digital era, how will the switch from reading books in print to reading online affect the memories of reading we develop? It is clear that memory has a strong impact on identity – who we think we are is closely associated with our personal vault of memory. How will the transition to reading books online, whether via an ebook reader, a tablet, or another device, affect our relationship with the text and what it means to us?

What do you think? Will ebooks play an important role in how the reading experience is captured into memory, and how these memories shape our ideas, emotions, and attitudes about the world? Memory is a complex psychological and neurological business, and I don’t pretend to be an expert here. However I do know that this strongly affects our self-concept and identity as well as our knowledge of the past and understanding of the present. Will screen reading of books be committed to memory in new ways, and how will the medium determine the quality and quantity of what we retain? I’ve written a piece on this topic in the June issue of ATG (

Jump in and start the conversation….

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One thought on “MultiGrain Forum: eBooks and Memory

  1. Brandon Nordin August 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm -

    This discussion needs to take place against the context of the entire volume of screen read material – not just books. Let’s face it – that’s the dominant mode of text to person interface these days. And just as reading reports, newspapers and love letters on screen seems more and more natural every year, so it will be with books, as habituated behaviour, improving technology and adapting publishing methods align.

    It will of course lead to new ways of retention and use – just as being able to easily clip a photograph to an email, or add a tag a caption to that photograph, then pass it onto the world via Facebook has changed the distribution pattern and understood use of that medium – as well as its role in personal and group memory.

    For me, as a prolific and fairly wide grazing reader – and recent iPad convert, the new experience has already meant:
    – it is far more difficult to flip back and forth (lets say between endnotes and the relevant chapter, or between sequenced instructions (as in a how to book) in an ebook than a physical work) There seems an obvious technology solution here – but in general, geo-locating within an e-work requires a specific action, like a bookmark, vs visual memory and instinct.
    – conversely, because I am seamlessly online, I am far more likely to look up a word in a dictionary, explore the location of a battlefield, and even purchase works referenced to, as part of my e-reading experience. So I am still able to seek references and supporting information – but a different subset, in a different manner.

    Like most socio-technologic transitions, some things once thought essential to the old experience will be lost…and but new modalities, habits and expectations will arise that soon become embedded ‘must have’ components to the experience.