The Art of Reading

We’re constantly surrounded by distractions. Twitter, Facebook, advertising, breaking news, debates on the latest news story, television, children, flatmates, the list goes on, and yet, more often than not, some of the most time-consuming distractions lie within just a few square inches of space.

With all this constant distraction, multi-tab browsing and pop up alerts, how much information do we really retain. Could it be possible that screens make us stupider?

Science-based Discover Magazine recently posed just this question via their blog series The Crux. Speculating whether a hefty tome puts your mind into the self-analytical frame required to take truly master your own understanding of the material at hand.

WIRED Science appears to have started the blog paper trail, citing paper books with the ability for the post author to read “deeply” and being able to lose themselves in a story or intellectual journey.

If, as these blogs say, university kids these days “consistently prefer their textbooks in print rather than pixels”, what hope does that leave for casual readers, and worse yet, those who must be constantly aware of content across the web as it relates to their clients?

Scrolling, as found in a 2004 study by psychologist Erik Wästlund at Sweden’s Karlstad University, is the most influential factor in under performing. The movement of text and eye refocusing, as well as the effort to actually scroll with a mouse or finger, distract readers significantly.

This is where devices such as Kindle, Kobo and Sony e-readers have tried to emulate the traditional reading experience with more realistic page turning, percentage bars and the ability to highlight quotes.

As an e-reader user myself, I’m often quick to spout the advantages of my device. It’s light, unrestrictive in terms of reading material available, minimal charging required and on and on. Which makes sense for someone who packed up their entire life to move to the other side of the globe.

But, I’ve also been thinking about how much my mind retains, or doesn’t retain, from the books I read on it – or whether it’s the content that hasn’t made an impression on me.

I demolished an entire popular fiction series over December and January this year comprised of 13 novels, a series which has also been a hit HBO series for a number of years (TV buffs will figure this one out easily). However, I’ve caught myself a couple of times struggling to remember how it all ended.

Whether that was because the ending was extremely forgettable and I was quite indifferent to it, or due to the medium used for reading it, I’m not sure.

E-paper, as the WIRED Science blog warns, has “improved dramatically, to the point where speed and accuracy aren’t now problems, but deeper issues of memory and comprehension are not yet well-characterised.”

The answer could simply be to read more to find out. There’s no harm in that, right?

 

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Image: XKCD