What Was Lost (or Gained) from Shifting from Paper to Screens

Reading on a screen encourages skimming

#Science

Fri, Jul 10th, 2015 11:00 by capnasty NEWS

FastCoDesign notes that shifting our reading habits from paper to screen has allowed us to read significantly more; however, it has also encouraged "non-linear" reading — skimming in layman's terms. According to researchers, this is partly due to the "endless information, links, videos, and images demanding our attention."

[...] The researchers found that when people read short nonfiction onscreen, their understanding of the text suffered because people managed their time poorly compared with when they used paper (although paper’s advantage disappeared when people were given a fixed amount of time to read the text). Other studies have also found costs when people multi-task online in both efficiency and the quality of work they create (like a written report) based on their understanding of what they read.

Nonlinear reading might especially hurt what researchers call "deep-reading"—our in-depth reading of text that requires intense focus to fully understand it, like the works of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf. "Skimming is fine for our emails, but it’s not fine for some of the important forms of reading," says Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf. "If you word-spot James Joyce, you’ll miss the entire experience." Wolf says that since humans didn’t evolve to read, we have very plastic brain circuits for this particular skill and our brains easily adapt to whatever medium we read. If we habitually browse and word-spot, Wolf explains, our brains will favor that type of reading even when we crack open Ulysses.

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