Digital Versus Paper: Preserving the Tradition of Reading Paper Dental Publications

  • by Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD, DMD, FAGD
  • Sep 24, 2018, 08:28 AM

When I was a dental student, my class was among the first to have the option of purchasing digital textbooks. It sounded so futuristic. Some of us marveled at the possibility of liberating ourselves from carrying enough books to put any strength-training program to shame. Others, like myself, continued to buy conventional paper textbooks at the expense of our backs. While some classmates highlighted digitally, I used colored pens, sticky bookmarkers and highlighters of all colors.

I thought of those times at work the other day while I was reviewing a medical history form that resembled a page from my dental school textbooks. I could barely make out the words scribbled in the margins; some of it was highlighted. It made me feel grateful that we now have a digital option for important patient documents. No more squeezing words into tiny spaces. No more highlighting that can obstruct text after photocopying or faxing. No more illegible scribbles that we have to call multiple staff members to decipher. I made the leap from paper to digital and will never look back. Recording health care history digitally and charting electronically can come with software issues, but these records have become reliable, legible and efficient substitutes to pen and paper.

However, I can’t let go of other forms of paper — dental journals and newspapers. No matter how beautiful the online dental journals are on a screen, I prefer paper copies and pulling out my highlighters, pens and sticky notes to make notes or mark important points or questions. Escaping screen fatigue, I sit back with a cup of coffee and read a dental publication. In this moment, I’m comfortably disconnected from email, social media or other online distractions and can focus on the journal content.

During the week, my newspaper reading is online, which means I’m able to use bookmarks and read with ink-free hands, but I look forward to having a newspaper delivered every weekend. I read it without any interruptions. I can bring my newspaper almost anywhere (except where wind is a factor) and read without glancing at computer notifications.

The art of reading without distraction seems to have faded over time, and paper books, newspapers and dental publications may belong to a bygone era. However, as more of our professional lives move into the digital realm, I hold on to the tradition of reading a physical newspaper —smelling of fresh ink — and dental journals I can color and mark as I please — just like the good old days of dental school.

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