A few days ago Michael Rosenwald wrote an article for The Washington Post, reporting that researchers say online scanning and skimming affects serious reading. The gist is that the way we read text online affects the way we read novels. Instead of allowing ourselves to fully take in novels, we skim, focusing on keywords rather than the whole text in front of us. They fear that our capacity for in-depth analysis and our comprehension for complicated text is on the decline.
As expected, Rosenwald also mention that comprehension of the printed word is higher than of words on the screen. The more time we spend reading on our computers, the more we are inclined to employ those reading methods when reading on paper. Personally, I don’t think the medium, as much as the content matters. It is true that a vastness of information online is just waiting to be unearthed. Hyperlinks happily lead us to new webpages, goading us to abandon the current one.
Skimming text, abandoning a page, skipping around pages, etc is not only characteristic of reading online. Magazines supported this type of reading even before the Internet became so ubiquitous. Many articles are bound together in a publication, not all of which will interest every reader. If an article doesn’t interest them, they’ll skip right ahead. Then there are those readers who only buy a magazine because of the headline. Nothing else about the magazine might interest them but that’s besides the point because like I said, the headline matters. Maybe another article might catch their eye, or maybe not.
Although, I do concede that online reading has augmented “superficial reading” because the distractions might as well be infinite. See if you can finish reading this article on Slate. Even Farhad Manjoo reckons you won’t and he’s the one who wrote it! I think I only read to the last full stop to prove a point. Without his challenge, chances are I wouldn’t have read the article in its entirety either.
This brings me to bi-literate reading. Apparently we’re able to train our brains to adapt to both sreen and print reading. Rosenwald introduces Wolf, a researcher, who is studying the difference in brain activities depending on what kind of reading a reader is engaged in. According to her, bi-literate reading is the way forward in the digital age. We can’t expect to move backward, so it’s a matter of what we want to preserve.
Bi-literate reading holds a lot of appeal for me. When I read books, I like to slow down and take in the prose, word for word. Authors painstakingly choose their words, slaving over which synonym is that tiny bit more accurate. I want to appreciate the soul poured into a book when I read, especially when I read a book that I enjoy. Yet when I’m online, I don’t feel compelled to soak in literary greatness. Of course, I could read Shakespeare, alongside a modern interpretation to aid my comprehension but on the whole, most of the webpages I visit are only useful for snippets of information I seek. Reading everything would weight me down and simply contribute to the ever increasing information overload.
If a strong case is made in future for bi-literate reading that proves in-depth reading and superficial reading can co-exist, I’ll be all for it.
When reading novels, how do you read? Do you think bi-literate reading is plausible or do you think it is more likely that reading generally is becoming more superficial?