Back in 2008 The Atlantic ran an article looking at what the internet is doing to our brains. The author wrote that he’d noticed that reading articles on-line was apparently affecting the way we take in information and was having a detrimental effect on our ability to read with sustained concentration. We were all becoming skim-readers.
Seven years later and it would seem that the scientists agree that there’s some truth in this. An interesting (and quite readable!) recent article on Fast Company, Everything Science Knows About Reading On Screens, reports on various pieces of research examining how technology has changed the way we read.
One study suggests that the tactile feedback of reading from paper, turning the pages and seeing how far you’ve got, may actually help the reader process the information being read. Does that mean that even if the e-reader shows you the percentage of your progress, or number of pages this still isn’t the same? Maybe so – the “paper” readers remembered more about the plot of the story.
I’d be very interested to know if a similar study has been done comparing people’s navigational experiences via satnavs versus paper maps – surely there are related aspects? Like a paper book, a map also gives you a tactile perspective (turning pages, following along a route) and you can also see how far you’ve got, whereas the satnav – not unlike the digital book – has a small screen that restricts the “mental map” of the journey – our brains must work differently in these mediums too (…or not at all, in some cases).
But I digress. The article also points out how distracting reading on screen can be – this is certainly true, as articles tend to have a lot of window-dressing around them (links to related content, adverts and so on). However, it could be argued that this provides a different advantage as you may then wander on to a better article or find out something new. You can browse through a book or a website, but each is a different experience, and I’d also add, technique.
The thing for me is, when it comes to the news, I’ve always skimmed paper newspapers, rarely reading a full article, so perhaps it’s more to do with what type of information you’re reading and maybe there’s not quite so much difference after all?
Hot tip for how to check that you can still read in-depth: last year I read “Daniel Deronda” (in paper format), which I loved and highly recommend if you would like to test your ability to read at length and in depth. Or you can substitute any sizeable tome of good literary standing to get the same confirmation.
So I’m not too worried about my concentration being disrupted. Did you read to the end of this? Thank you so very much!