Reading is one of the main activities performed by a grad student and academics in general. In my PhD program in management, i have to read between 12 and 15 papers a week for my courses this semester, let alone all other readings such as book chapters, leisure books, blogs, e-mails, tweets, facebook news feed, so forth and so on. Yes, I probably spend half of my awake time reading.
But let me focus on these 12-15 papers. Some are as small as ten pages, but some are fifty pages long; thus, let’s consider an average of twenty pages per article. That makes 300 pages of articles to read per week, about 3,500 per semester. So how should we “consume” all this information?
Last year I decided to be a “high-tech” reader, and I read all these pages on an iPad. At first I used a simple reader app (such as iBooks), but soon I realised the need of annotating on the files, so I switched to a paid app (iAnnotate PDF) that offered this capability, as well as other features such as downloading and uploading from/to Dropbox. In other words, I would download the files from my Dropbox account, read and annotate them, and finally replace the original file in Dropbox with the annotated one.
I did this for the entire year and it worked quite well. Most of all, I enjoyed the savings in printing fees (at $0.06 per page, it would have cost me about $400 for the whole year), and the storage and accessibility affordances: I could have all my readings available everywhere I was without having to carry them around. But there were downsides as well. Specially during seminars: even with tabbed browsing and a search function, retrieving information from the papers and annotations is not as quick as having all articles in printed form.
Another disadvantage was the dynamics in class. Having an iPad or a laptop usually means you spend more time interacting with the technology than with your colleagues, and even though you’re only looking at the articles or related material, it appears as if you’re multitasking and thus not focusing 100% on the discussions.
So this semester I decided to experiment being a “low-tech” reader, and so far I have mixed feelings about both alternatives: I can’t really decide which one is better. Class dynamics did improve slightly by having papers in class and no screen. That’s because handling paper is easier in lower volumes. However, as the semester advances, the task starts to get daunting. Having 1,000 articles neatly organized in EndNote is way easier than having 20,000 pages in your drawers and shelves.
I decided to keep the experiment until the end of the semester and then make a decision on which way works better for me. Meanwhile, I’d like to know: are you a high-tech or a low-tech reader? Why?