‘Screen Fatigue’ May Result in Employees Turning to Print

Is “screen fatigue” helping to keep people printing? While office-print volumes have been gradually declining over the last several years, most workers have experienced screen fatigue – tired eyes from looking at PC monitors, smartphones, and tablets all day – the very same devices that have resulted in lower office print volumes.  (Additionally, many workers also still prefer reading or proof-reading documents – including very-text heavy documents – on a printed page, as they find it aids their comprehension.) And, indeed, last month, Epson Europe released the results of a study indicating that at a certain point, screen fatigue does set in, print helps comprehension, and workers turn to the printed page.

The Epson Europe independent survey, The State of Printing in the Workplace, included the responses of over 2,400 employees from across the EMEA (Europe, Middle-East, Africa). It found that screen fatigue is sending workers back to the printed page, with, for instance,  73 percent of South Africans printing, on average, around 36 pages each day.

Epson notes that with the rise of tablets, e-readers, and smart phones, along with ever-increasing screen quality “people are doing more with digital screens than ever before.” This is said to be especially true for ‘screenagers’, the younger generation of millennials who have grown up in a screen-based culture of social media and mobile devices.

However, Epson maintains that paper still plays a major part in how we work.  According to Epson, when it comes to ‘skimming’ over content, or giving something a quick read, on-screen reading works better for some than others. However, people still turn to paper for thoughtful and careful reading, whether in schools or in an office environment.

Text-Heavy Documents are Printed

In the workplace, Epson says that the most popular printed items include invoices and letters, which employees say make up 48 and 46 percent, respectively, of all items they print in a typical day. These items are typically text heavy and are often the source of critical background or legal information, requiring a comprehensive understanding of the text, which would explain their prevalence in the office. Invoices and letters are also more likely to be edited and treated with extra attention than other items.

According to the firm, research shows that the number of business email messages sent and received per user, per day, reached an estimated 123 emails during 2016. This is expected to grow to an average of 126 messages sent and received per business user, per day, by the end of 2019. Accordingly, email attachments account for 45 percent of all printed items, and 39 percent of these making up the total number of items printed.

According to the Epson survey, employees also highlighted their biggest reasons for printing instead of screen reading: 40 percent of respondents said that they need hard copies of legal documentation and contracts. A further 38 percent of people print items in order to archive or keep them on file for future reference, while 36 percent prefer to print out proof-of-purchase from their banks, as well as items such as concert tickets – presumably because having hard copies provides peace of mind.

Print Aids Comprehension

Epson says that scientific research, although still in its early stages, is demonstrating that reading from print results in much higher levels of comprehension, learning, information retention, and ease of use. This can be partially explained by the reader’s ability to move through text in a non-linear fashion – the opposite of reading from a screen – and being able to flick through pages more easily.

Screen technology is currently unable to replicate this tactile experience, even with the advent of flipbooks on reading devices, or flip-page magazine PDFs online. Some scientists are said to even argue that simply feeling the paper between our fingers also supports comprehension of text – known in a 2011 study by Gerlach and Buxmann as “haptic dissonance,” referring quite literally to ‘grasping something’.

Screen Reading is Tiring

Epson also cites several other academic studies (Wastlund, Reinikka, Norlander and Archer) that reveal that the human brain is under much more stress when reading from a screen, becoming tired more rapidly, compared to reading from paper. Studies have also shown that the brain can function for a much longer period when reading from paper, with screens draining more of the brain’s resources during the reading experience, making the comprehension of information more difficult.

Reading on interactive digital devices is also said to require more discipline, as it allows for multiple distractions. For instance, an email may pop-up in the corner of one’s PC monitor, or one may be tempted to leave the document to browse the Internet or social media. When working on paper, there’s less opportunity for distraction and readers are less likely to multi-task.

“Futurist” Jack Uldrich: “Every technology has unique and tangible benefits, and paper is no different. Arguably, paper is the greatest instrument ever invented for conveying, sharing and disseminating information.”

Epson’s take – and we agree – it’s safe to say that paper-based documents will continue to be vital for productive and efficient employees.