Friday, April 18, 2014

Are You Bi-Literate?

Tim Challies linked to an interesting article on how the internet has made most of us "skimmers" vs. readers. (The follow-up article was on how most people just skimmed the first article.) The passages in italics are from the original post.

Claire Handscombe relates that since she quickly reads through e-mails and blog posts, she now has difficulty reading normal books. I have noticed this tendency in myself. My new attention span for a book is about an hour. After that I really have to push myself.

To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe's experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through torrents of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia...

Maryanne Wolf, one of the world's foremost experts on the study of reading was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the Web, she sat down to read Herman Hesse's "The Glass Bead Game." "I'm not kidding: I couldn't do it," she said. "It was torture getting through the first page..."

Wolf's next book will look at what the digital world is doing to the brain, including looking at brain-scan data as people read both online and in print. She is particularly interested in comprehension results in screen vs. print reading...

Researchers say that the differences between text and screen reading should be studied more thoroughly and that the differences should be dealt with in education, particularly with school-aged children. There are advantages to both ways of reading. There is potential for a bi-literate brain. "We can't turn back," Wolf said. "We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age. It's both." 

I'd like to make just a couple of comments: First, I think skimming is absolutely essential in this age of information overload. I learned this skill way back in the 1980's so that I wouldn't waste time on non-essential information while doing research papers. Skimming is not a bad thing. What worries me is that our brains are becoming re-wired to want/tolerate only small bites of information.

Second, the idea that we have to steadily increase our children's immersion into the technological, digital age is ridiculous. It's already a stampeding horse, that's dragging our kids away from healthy times of imaginitive play and quiet reflection. If anything, we have to look for ways to decrease their immersion.

It looks like it's going to take a lot of determination to be bi-literate, but I'm up for the challenge. What about you? Do you struggle with this too?



Farm Girl said...

I am so glad you wrote on this as I couldn't understand what was happening to me as I sit with a book and find I just don't enjoy it like once did.
I thought it was because I lost my sight and reading was impossible and now that I have it back I still can't seem to enjoy it.
I really do think it is what you said though. I do spend more time reading blogs than I once read books. Very insight full. I would like to link to this if you don't mind. I think my daughters need to be aware of this as they raise my grand children.
thank you.

hopeinbrazil said...

Of course, you may share this with anyone. I'd love it.

Sherry said...

Challenging, indeed. I find this problem in my reading lately, too. And a secondary issue is that books themselves are adapting to this short attention span. More and more children's and YA books that I read are written in brief episodic passages with very little description or explanation to slow the reader down. And I find that high school students can't slow down enough to read the classics because they either don't have the vocabulary or the attention span or both.