If you read this article on a screen—according to a growing weight of research—you are less likely to read it closely, remember it, understand it or reflect on it. In short, it is less likely to make an impression on you or make a difference in your life.
If you read it on a piece of paper, whether you print it out yourself or as a page of one of your favourite magazines, you are less likely to be interrupted or distracted, lose focus or click away to something else.
From studies and anecdotes of school students in various parts of the world who are moving away from digital-only learning and choosing printed reading1 to observing our own experiences of how we consume, scroll and read, reading deeply happens more often, more easily and with more impact on paper. Of course, you can choose to focus on reading closely on a screen—and you can always turn the magazine pages to catch up on the weddings and obituaries—but as people who have important things to learn and something vital to share, we need to be alert to the reality that we “shouldn’t assume all media are the same, even when they contain identical words”.2
Yet it seems that every church committee—from a local church near you to the General Conference—will include someone who is enamored with their newest gadget and the latest technology, who will be urging that we shift our funding and focus to digital platforms and media. There are arguments to be made about reaching as many people as possible as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and the church should be creative and expansive in using a variety of media formats. But Jesus’ parable of the sower points out that where and how the seed of the gospel lands significantly affects how and even if it will be received (see Matthew 13:1–23). It seems that the seed can be easily “snatched away” if it is scattered haphazardly or if it is not understood (see verse 19). The kingdom of God and the message we have to share must always be more about faithfulness than efficiency, more about depth than hype, more about communication than clicks, more about relationships than “follows”, more about conversations than downloads.
A recent survey conducted by Adventist Media showed that two-thirds of respondents are positive about sharing their faith using literature—and many of these were keen to learn how to do this more effectively. This might begin with choosing how and where. In a world awash with digital junk, sharing our hope in printed form can cut through the noise, demonstrate its value to us and to others, and become part of ongoing conversations and real relationships with friends, neighbours and members of our community.
But it also changes how we—and they—actually read it. We expect that what we read and write can change people’s lives. While God can and does work in people’s hearts, minds and lives in countless ways and even in all media, researchers confirm that the discipline, focus and tactile experience that comes with reading from a printed page means that what we read and share in this format will have a deeper impact. The same message can be heard differently or even not at all, depending on the methods and media we use.
If you read this on a screen, you are more likely to shrug and click to the next thing.
If you read this on a printed page, you are more likely to remember it, reflect on it and even act on it.
How much more when we have something vitally important to share.