Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound
Maryanne Wolf writes that the “reading circuit” in our brains develops in each individual based on their reading environment. Without a reading environment that encourages or requires slow and deep reading, “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.”
One of the advantages to reading on the page comes from its spatial quality. Reading on a page, we can connect to where the words were on the page (and to further connect that sentiment to where we were in time and place when we read them)—this is much more difficult, if not impossible, on screens.
One memory and one thought come to mind:
- Recently I was trying to find a passage in a book of aphorisms. I thought I could remember where on the page this passage was located (top half of the left-hand page), but I flipped through the book repeatedly with no luck. In so doing, though, I ended up reading many more aphorisms, a happy result. (Maybe I’m like Umberto Eco, who recalled reading a key line that inspired his thesis in an obscure book, only to later find that the line wasn’t in the book.)
- What, then, does this spatial quality of reading mean for us when we design and redesign websites? When doing so, we change the form in which the content is conveyed. Perhaps it doesn’t at all matter, as we’re reading on screen and thus lack entirely the spatial qualities of the page.
Fortunately, Wolf offers a positive finish:
There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice. … We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums.