Media, and methods for consuming them, could be divided into three categories, according to the degree that they allow control over the rate of flow of information into your brain:
Allow No Control
Allow Some Control (Pauseable, Restartable)
Allow Flexible Control
- Reading - books, the web, etc.
The list is hardly comprehensive, I’ve just listed some of those with which I’m more familiar. There is of course some wiggle room. For example, some DVD players allow films to be slowed down/speeded up, although dramatically changing the speed ruins the experience. Also, of course, you can record TV programmes for later viewing.
However, the point of this exercise isn’t to dwell on the exact media themselves: the point I’m trying to make is, despite many years of technical progression, reading still allows for far more flexible control over the flow of information into the brain that any other type of media - it can be rewound, restarted, paused, sped up, slowed down, almost entirely at will.
Is this useful? Is the lack of control over media such as the theatre one of things that make it useful for certain types of productions? You certainly can’t avoid a shocking or gory scene by skipping past it in the theatre. Is reading still the only effective way to receive certain types of information? I would contend that the useful information density/second is probably higher with reading than any other form of media consumption, certainly for an above average reading speed and good quality prose. If so, why do we watch documentaries? Is it the sensory stimulation?
I’m sure some serious, yet readable, academic research has probably been done in this area, but my sketchy Google search didn’t turn up any.