Researchers have found that, as people read more and more on-line or on social media, they start to have trouble actually reading books. Even people who liked to read are having trouble because they have become so used to skimming, searching for key words and phrases, and moving from page to page. But, are they really reading?
Perhaps it started with 24 hour cable news, political sound bytes, catchy advertising slogans, etc. We stop when we: hear “breaking news”, which is merely to fill-up the show’s empty air time; listen to code words like War on Women or Obamacare; or feel like we need to drink “the real thing”. Perhaps, it really started with Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist, who conditioned his dog to salivate at the sound of the bell, rather than the actual bowl of food that would follow.
There are no genes for reading, like there are for language and vision. The brain, however, learned to adapt as various visual types of writing were standardized (hieroglyphics, Phoenician alphabet, Chinese characters, etc.), which in more modern times evolved into the cursive that many of us learned in school. But, nowadays, that has all changed–at least, as far as the Younger Generation is concerned. And, even among many of us old fogies.
You might have read that the standardized college entrance exams are dropping the essay questions. Is that to make the test shorter, easier or because high school seniors do not know how to write anymore? Cursive is unknown to many, spelling is becoming lost art since Twitter only allows for 144 characters and also the haphazard way that many people read today.
An on-line newspaper article or academic journal has hyperlinks, maps and illustrations and, sometimes, even highlights key phrases. Just think of how you spend your day: do you have quiet times when you turn the TV, computer and cell phone off? Congratulations if you do; because, most people don’t. In fact, many are constantly switching from one device to the other, and often interrupting conversations because “I just have to take this call”.
Researchers have started to realize that just like our ancestors’ brains learned to evolve linear (one page after another) reading capabilities, they eventually started to re-wire themselves to fit today’s Inter-connected World. But, now some researchers believe that we might go too far into that next dimension. What if our Medical Students focus more on skimming textbooks, scientists can no longer read lengthy research papers and engineers don’t quite understand the architectural dynamics of the bridges and buildings they are working on?
Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University states that our society has now replaced the sound byte with the eye-byte culture. She has noticed that, after a week of going through Email, being interrupted by phone calls and skimming her reading material for key points, she is at somewhat of a loss when she tries to read for pleasure. She often has to read a key page several times to comprehend its meaning.
In 2013, adults were expected to spend more than five hours per day using either desktop or mobile devices. And, that’s quite a jump from just three hours per day in 2010. The linked article from the Washington Post describes this “evolution” in more detail: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/serious-reading-takes-a-hit-from-online-scanning-and-skimming-researchers-say/2014/04/06/088028d2-b5d2-11e3-b899-20667de76985_print.html.
Just think of any lengthy process–a long trip, reading a classic novel, a piece of art or a project for work. Sometimes the challenge of the intermediate steps will be as joyful–and as vital–as eventually reaching your destination or completing the task at hand.
NOTE: Neil Armstrong was the first Man to set-foot on the Moon, on July 20, 1969. That was eight years after President John F. Kennedy challenged the Country to land a man on the Moon, and return him safely to earth on May 21, 1961. The various component parts and equipment had to be invented, systems analysis devised and necessary engineering sub-fields were unthought of at that time. In that case, the journey is certainly as compelling of a story as the destination.