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The reading brain in a digital world

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf book cover

How often do you print something out just so you can take the time to read it with more focus?

In an interview with The Verge, UCLA neuroscientist and author of the forthcoming book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, Maryanne Wolf explains what tech does to the reading brain.

This is a question that requires a very careful attempt at explanation. It’s not zero-sum, but we have grown used to skimming. People like you and me who spend six to 12 hours a day on a screen are led to use the skimming mode even when we know we should use a more concentrated, focused mode of reading.

It’s an idea I call “cognitive patience.” I believe we are all becoming unable to take the time to be patient because skimming has bled over into most of our reading.

The consequences of skimming:

Skimming has led, I believe, to a tendency to go to the sources that seem the simplest, most reduced, most familiar, and least cognitively challenging. I think that leads people to accept truly false news without examining it, without being analytical. One of my major worries is that when you lose the novel, you lose the ability to go into another person’s perspective. My biggest worry now is that a lot of what we’re seeing in society today — this vulnerability to demagoguery in all its forms — of one unanticipated and never intended consequence of a mode of reading that doesn’t allow critical analysis and empathy.

A fascinating read throughout. But books are not the only medium with an attention problem.

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of Discvr.blog and four books.