October 13, 2014

Paper versus digital reading

On the left is Barton Creeth reading a book. On the right, Jason Ashford is reading his phone. In the middle is me drawing. On the weekend of Setpember 26-28 I and a few friends took a trip to Bushmills and some took the chance for a digital detox - to "deassimilate from the cyber hive", as Ray Mears put it.

Charles Bremner (@CharlesBremner) wrote in the Times that "Permanent digital connection is bane of modern life". The Guardian reported that "Germany ponders ground-breaking law to combat work-related stress". The Spectator wrote:

Speaking personally I love reading on the phone and computer. But I also love the touch, texture and tactility of book and a paper. I've also considered it natural and normal to limit the amount of screen-reading. I don't have the qualitative evidence that informed this outlook, it appeared to me self-evident.

In Bushmills, playing Devil's advocate, I said to Barton Creeth, does your burying your head in a book not represent the same bane both to the group, as being antisocial, and to your mind, as being over-stimulating? He opposed. I tended to agree with him. And now the facts back this up. Public Radio International reported
"Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards "non-linear" reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.  
They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Manoush Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.” 
So what's deep reading? It's the concentrated kind we do when we want to "immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,” Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don't typically do on a computer. “Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.” 
Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University. 
“I don’t worry that we’ll become dumb because of the Internet,” Wolf says, "but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we’re just given too much stimulation. That’s, I think, the nub of the problem.” To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, Zomorodi says that researchers like Wolf recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper. 
And now that children are seemingly growing up with a digital screen in each hand, Wolf says it’s also important that teachers and parents make sure kids are taking some time away from scattered reading. Adults need to ensure that children also practice the deeper, slow reading that we associate with books on paper. “I think the evidence someday will be able to show us that what we’re after is a discerning ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Wolf says. “That’s going to take some wisdom on our part”."
In full here.

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