Maryanne Wolf wrote an article for the Guardian titled Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound (August 25, 2018). Wolf is the Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.

« As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. »

« My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. »

« Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading. »

« As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. » Sherry Turkle is the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2016) and Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2017)

« We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements… If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. »

« As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.  »

« We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.  »

« Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own. » Ziming Liu is author of the book  Paper to Digital: Documents in the Information Age (2008).

« Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds… a spatial “thereness” for text… The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.” »


A similar story titled Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing ran on The PRI’s The Takeaway program (Sept 18, 2014).

« 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,” 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.” »

« Here are a few resources: Wolf explained her research in an essay for Nieman Reports. Ziming Liu at San Jose State University found that when we read on screens we spend more time browsing and scanning, performing “non-linear reading.” For an even deeper read, here’s Liu’s 2008 book on the subject. Anne Mangen at the University of Norway found that readers retain plot elements better when they read in print instead of on a Kindle. But a study in PLOS found that reading e-ink is a lot like reading on paper in terms of visual fatigue. »

 


 

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