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Is Physical Reading Better for Your Eyes?

Millions of people have switched to reading on tablets and computer screens almost exclusively, while some people insist that print reading is still the superior option. You probably have a strong personal preference in your own life.

There are certainly pros and cons to both approaches, but which one is better for your eyes?

Physical Reading vs. Digital Reading

Let’s look at some of the biggest differences between physical and digital reading as these practices relate to your eye health.

  •       The target of your focus. In a physical reading environment, you’re usually concentrating on a physically printed, perfect bound book. In a digital reading environment, you’re concentrating on a screen. Looking at a screen isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s fundamentally different than looking at a sheet of paper. Staring at a screen, especially for a prolonged period of time, is more likely to introduce eye strain. This is partially because digital screens emit light directly, while printed books merely reflect light. It’s also attributable to the fact that most digital devices emit bright, blue tinted light, which can also interfere with your sleeping patterns.
  •       Lighting and conditions. Speaking of lighting, we should acknowledge the lighting conditions required for both digital and physical reading. To read a physical book, you practically require adequate lighting, whether you read in the daytime or at night with a lamp nearby. When reading a digital device, you’re more tempted to read in the dark, which can be bad for your eyes. It’s important to adjust the brightness settings on your device and your peripheral lighting to minimize eye strain.
  •       Proximity and strain. Studies show that most traditional digital devices trigger eye fatigue. This is partially due to the nature of the light being emitted by the device; we can determine this because device is specifically made to replicate the appearance of a physical book don’t trigger eye fatigue as much. However, it could also be attributable to the proximity at which you hold your reading material; generally speaking, people hold digital devices closer to their face than physical objects, all other factors being equal.
  •       Available information. When reading a physical book, you have more visible information available to you at all times. At any point, you can look back at the rest of the page, or even on previous pages, to reread information. This is a fluid and natural process. When reading something on a digital screen, you may have to scroll, flip, or zoom to get the same effect. Over enough time, this can be hard on your eyes.
  •       Reading speed. Some evidence suggests that people who read physical books read somewhat slower and more attentively than their counterparts. There are many potential explanations for this, but it’s likely that reading a physical book force requires more focus and naturally invites more concentration. On a digital device, your eyes are much more likely to wander and blitz through reading material too quickly to fully understand it.

Overall, it does appear that physical reading is better for your eyes. You’ll experience far less eye strain and have a more comfortable experience while reading.

Other Advantages of Physical Reading

These are just some of the other advantages that physical reading offers:

  •       No battery or electronics reliance. If you’re used to reading on a digital device, you’ve probably become almost entirely dependent on batteries and charging cables. It’s true that most devices have long lifespans these days, offering many hours of entertainment on a single charge. But your physical book will never run out of batteries.
  •       Memory and retention. Multiple studies demonstrate that people who read physical books tend to remember more information and recall that information more effectively than people who read digital content. Again, there are many potential reasons for this, but the effect is undeniable.
  •       Nostalgia. For many of us, digital reading simply wasn’t available when we were growing up. Reading a physical book taps into feelings of nostalgia, which is a subjective – but potentially powerful – benefit of physical reading.

Is Physical Reading Strictly Superior?

With all these advantages, is physical reading strictly superior to digital reading? In some contexts, yes, physical reading is superior. But digital technology is quickly closing the gap, and there are some contexts where digital reading is already superior. For example, there’s no practical way you can lug around an entire library of books with you – but you can bring multiple libraries of information with you in a tablet or laptop.

Wherever you fall on this debate, you should know that there are some practical strengths and weaknesses of both physical and digital reading. If you’re an avid reader, your best bet may be reading a bit of both.

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