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How the Internet has ruined your brain for serious reading

How the Internet has ruined your brain for serious reading

April 7, 2014 - According to Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University and one of the world's foremost authorities on the study of reading, the superficial manner in which we read material online is making it difficult for us understand works that require more than a momentary commitment to comprehend them.

The author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain told the Washington Post that she worries "that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing."


"The brain is plastic its whole life span," Wolf said, "the brain is constantly adapting." And it is currently "adapting" to an online environment that favors the acquisition of information at the quickest possible speed.

She even claimed to be a victim of this new mode of "reading" herself, telling the Post about a recent evening in which she attempted to read Hermann Hesse's long, modernist novel The Glass Bead Game.

"I'm not kidding: I couldn't do it," she said. "It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn't force myself to slow down so that I wasn't skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself."

"I wanted to enjoy this form of reading again," Wolf continued. "When I found myself [able to do so], it was like I recovered. I found my ability again to slow down, savor and think."

In a previous article - "How the brain adapted itself to read: The first writing systems" (2012) - Wolf discussed how the invention of writing and the concomitant development of reading skills affected cognitive function. In particular, she outlined how the linear nature of reading "exploits and expands our capacity for specialization and our capacity for making new connections among associated areas."

The brain, in other words, developed the capacity to create links between disparate items of knowledge - which is what the Internet, with its HTML links, currently does without reader intervention.

Wolf argues that the abundance of prefabricated connections has transformed us from connection-makers to path-takers, and our brains are devising means of discovering which path will most quickly and efficiently provide us with the information we seek. Practices such as key-word searches, scanning for salient words, skimming for comprehension, scrolling, and link-clicking are not conducive to acquiring a deep understanding of the material being interacted with.

As Andrew Dillon, a reading specialist at the University of Texas, told the Post, "[w]e're spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you."

"We're in this new era of information behavior, and we're beginning to see the consequences of that."

Foremost among them, according to Wolf, is the inability of this generation of college students to retain information contained in long, clause-dense sentences. "They cannot read Middlemarch. They cannot read William James or Henry James," she said.

"I can't tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James."



Sources and more information:

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

PHOTOS: Best news photos from the week of March 24, 2014 But it's not just online anymore. She finds herself behaving the same way with a novel. "It's like your eyes are passing over the words but you're not taking in what they say," she confessed. "When I realize what's happening, I have to go back and read again and again.


( via rawstory.com )



1 comments

  • Karenleigh51#

    Karenleigh51 wrote April 8, 2014 12:59:10 PM CEST

    I have to agree fully with this researcher as I experience the same phenomenon when
    trying to read a book. Before we got our computers (1998) I was an avid reader as were
    my two daughters. Since then, the enjoyment of a good book has vanished though the
    desire to read is still there. Computers and electronic methods of obtaining information
    has made us impatient, wanting instant results and yes, scanning for keywords and
    phrases has retrained our brain on how to go about gathering information. I think the
    only solution is to severely limit the time on electronic "gadgets" and go back to real
    reading. Hopefully our brains (mine as well) will adapt once more to the "old" way of
    how we take in information. Just my own observations on this subject. Have a beautiful day!

 
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