Are Physical newspapers Ever Going to Disappear

Findings are also mixed for how digital reading affects children. Illustrated children’s e-books often include enhancements, including movement, music and sound. But the effect these additions have on reading varies depending on how they are executed. If done well, “they can be a kind of guide for children,” says Adriana Bus, a professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands who conducts research into reading, and reading problems.

In several experiments involving more than 400 kindergarteners, Bus and her colleagues found that kids who read animated e-books understood the story better and learned more vocabulary than those who read static ones. “For young children, written language is often difficult, but animated pictures can help them understand more difficult parts of the text,” she says.   

But for all the worries about e-books changing the way we comprehend the written word and interact with one another, Wolf points out that “never before have we had such a democratisation of knowledge made possible.” While too much time on devices might mean problems for children and adults in places like Europe and the US, for those in developing countries, they may be a godsend, Wolf says – “the most important mechanism for giving literacy.”  

In light of this, she hopes that we continue to maintain a “bi-literate” society – one that values both the digital and printed word. The recent uptick in the number of independent bookstores, at least in the US, gives her encouragement that others, too, are recognising the value of print.

“A full reading brain circuit is one of the most important contributions to the intellectual development of our species,” she says. “Anything that threatens that should be a matter of great vigilance and scrutiny.”

Join 500,000+ Future fans by liking us onFacebook, or follow us on Twitter, Google+, LinkedInandInstagram.

If you liked this story,sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.