The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

It’s one thing to write about how the internet has changed the way we read. It’s another thing to claim how that change in reading as affected us overall. This article from Maryanne Wolf opens with just that:

When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. We need a new literacy for the digital age.

What are the problems? Well, the author states there are several:

Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading comprehension in older high school and college students.

So, comprehending what we read. But that’s not at all:

Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade - with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.

So not only understand what we’re reading but also in how we feel about others and the things they’re facing. Wolf sums it up like this:

The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.

Whether you agree with her case, this is worth reflecting on.