Paper or pixels? Does the medium affect the way people read?


Paper or pixels? Does the medium affect the way people read?

Andrew Dillon Ph.D., the dean of the Graduate School of Information Science at the University of Texas has written a very interesting blog post on the nuances of online reading.

Reading beyond cognition

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m interested in the topic of thinking on a holistic level. I consider systems thinking and embodied cognition milestones towards the goal of holistic thinking. Given that interest, I found Mr. Dillon’s comment at #2 in the list below a good reminder to what reading requires:

2) The act of reading involves all levels of human activity: physical, perceptual, cognitive and social. We tend to think of it only as a perceptual and cognitive act but materials must be located and handled, and the forms of information we share reflect cultural and behavioral norms of groups which manifest as genres and types. Any significant act of reading moves seamlessly among these levels of engagement.

The medium matters

Not all types of content should be consumed on the same medium. The medium matters. Your goals behind consuming the content also matters. Consider the following comment from the same article:

With most of the material we read during the working day and online, we often aren’t willing to commit to the full range and stop after scanning. Content providers know this and produce accordingly. Add to this the delivery of digital material on a platform that is constantly refreshing, updating and allows users to multi-task across applications, and the results are a series of short acts involving the perusal and reaction to messages and short form texts that break up the normal progression through deep reading tasks.

Is this bad? Not if your goal is to keep on top of changing contexts and identify facts. Yes if you want to read a novel or really study a technical report.

Read the whole article

This excerpt doesn’t do the original post any justice. I recommend reading the entire article: “Reading Online is Ruining My Life…” Graduate School of Information – University of Texas, blog post by Andrew Dillon Ph.D. Downloaded April 10, 2014 from:

Listen to a related podcast

I also recommend listening to a recent NPR radio affiliate interview with Mr. Dillon titled: “Is reading online affecting your ability to learn?“. “Airtalk” by Larry Mantle, Downloaded on April 10, 2014.


From embodied thinking to embodied metaphor?


Embodied Thinking

Psychology researchers in Singapore have found that acting out metaphors or imagining them, helps people become more creative.

These ideas of using metaphors to gain creative insight, are closely related to the ideas we have covered in this blog: “How to think like Einstein“.

Metaphors and thought experiments

Einstein is known to have imagined himself riding a beam of light across space. Albert was fully aware of philosophical thinking processes, because he started reading philosophy when he was 12 years old. The imagined metaphor, is a close cousin of the “thought experiment“, which has been present in philosophy for more than 2,000 years. Einstein was able to leverage this old type of thinking to gain historical insights.

But Einstein also mixed pure imagination with his personal physical experience of the world. For example, he compared the feeling of gravity with the feeling you get when riding a car while it accelerates. (see General relativity)

Why does the embodied metaphor work?

Why is thinking through a metaphor just as effective, for creativity as performing it?

Psychologists have repeatedly said that our minds (bodies) have a hard time telling apart what we imagine vividly from what happens in reality. In other words, our imagination may be key ally in our ability to trigger the benefits from the mind-body level of thinking.

Whether we use only our imagination or we combine our imagination with our actual physical experiences, metaphors are a doorway to great insight.


  1. io9 – “Five Embodied Metaphors That Actually Foster Creative Thinking”
  2. SAGE journals – Psychological Science – Angela K.-y. Leung, School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, Level 4, 90 Stamford Rd., Singapore 178903, Singapore E-mail:
  3. University of Illinois: “General Relativity”
  4. Wikipedia: “Mirror Neurons” (NeuroScience)
  5. Wikipedia: “Thought Experiments”
  6. – Department of History and Philosophy of Science: “Einstein’s most famous thought experiment”
  7. Dyslexia Research Institute. “The Dyslexia Research Institute Mission”
  8. – “Einstein’s study of philosophy”

Related in this blog:

  1. Human Built-in Empathy?
  2. Mirror Neurons and our Non-verbal Communication System
  3. Embodied Cognition: It’s Not What You Think It Is
  4. Types of Thinking
  5. How to think like Einstein

Related books

  1. How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius
  2. Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments (For Kids series)
  3. What If….Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy
  4. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
  5. Teaching Creativity Through Metaphor: An Integrated Brain Approach (Contemporary topics for teachers series)

Disclaimer: All my blog posts are “rough drafts” and subject to random improvements over time. All typos and broken links are free. Do your own fact checking and think for yourself.

Mirror neurons and our non-verbal communication system


Quoting from Wikipedia’s entry on “Mirror neurons”:

“A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal performs an action and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself performing the action.” Go to the wikipedia entry >>

I stumbled on a fairly old but still interesting article on Scientific American about mirror neurons.

“Action performed by one person can activate motor pathways in another’s brain responsible for performing the same action. The second [person] understands viscerally what the first is doing because this mirror mechanism let her experience it in her own mind.” (Rizzolatti, Fogassi, Gallesse)

Remote emotional experience?

“These mirror neurons” provide a direct internal experience, and therefore understanding of another person’s act, intention or emotion.”(Rizzolatti, Fogassi, Gallesse)

Their relationship to learning

“Mirror neurons may also underlie the ability to imitate norther’s action, and thereby learn, making the mirror mechanism a bridge between individual brains for communication and connection on multiple levels.”(Rizzolatti, Fogassi, Gallesse)

Mirror neurons have been linked to empathy, the ability to recognize and empathize with emotional messages from others.

This may be just the beginning
• I believe that mirror neurons are part of our non-verbal communication system.

• I believe that mirror neurons are just the beginning of a potential recognition of various intra-system and inter-system communication systems operating within living organisms.

Related in print
Giacomo Rizzolatti, Leonardo Fogassi and Vittorio Gallese. “Mirrors in the Mind”. Scientific American, November 2006. p.54-61.

Keyword: Daniel Montano, Dan Montano, user experience design, information architect