Has the ‘digital age’ affected your reading?

This is a topic that I’ve come across, and is one I can relate to. I wanted to see if anyone else has had a similar experience, and if you think it is a problem.

The internet encourages skimming through text, avoiding ads and anything else you aren’t interested in. I read almost all of my news and information online, and have gotten very good at skipping over what I don’t want to learn about. This is quite different than a traditional novel, which is meant to be read in its entirety. Books require much deeper thought than reading online.

Our brain changes based on our experiences, through brain plasticity.  If we spend most of our time skimming articles online, our brain actually changes to become better at that. Reading online seems to conflict with reading books, because you don’t need to focus for long periods of time. Luckily brain plasticity works both ways, and if you begin reading more books your brain will adjust.

Has the internet negatively impacted your ability to focus on books?

Do you think books will be replaced by shorter digital content, or will they continue to serve different purposes?

Is too much reading online a problem, or just a faster way to get information?

Below I’ve added a couple relevant articles that I read (or skimmed):
“Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say”
Parents Say Electronic, Digital Devices Negatively Affects Kids’ Reading Time

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8 Responses to Has the ‘digital age’ affected your reading?

  1. I totally agree with you. Last term I wrote my English essay on the subject and since then I’ve become more aware of this awful habit that we have all acquired from the internet. Now I limit the time I use the internet to prevent pointless skimming through texts and to only use the internet when I need something.

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  2. I tend to think that the “is the Internet hurting this or that activity” usually just ends up sounding like people of my parents’ generation when they said that TV was bad for us. For these reasons, I’m not convinced that videogames are “bad” for us, or that “radio” will rot our brains. Or etc. Different media technologies have different effects, and usually these are far more complex than simply: reading is better in a book (which I’m not sure it is.) W/r/t this issue, this may simply be because I feel like reading is an activity I am deeply invested in, and I enjoy doing it either in a book or the Internet, which offers up its own kinds of pleasures and advantages (they’re not all bad!). I do read quite a bit though.

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  3. Steph Roman says:

    To add another, albeit similar perspective:

    I’m a heavy Internet surfer, but it has not impaired my ability to -actually- read. That’s not the problem I foresee, though in 10-20 years students may not be able to read critically at all (sarcastic overgeneralization). The problem the Internet creates is less dependency on physical text–books, pages, magazines–because everything can be accessed online cheaply (oftentimes even for free). As much as it breaks my heart, I do believe books are going to be replaced with digital-only versions. Whether this changes the length or not, we have to see.

    I know that I can’t read a novel on a computer screen. It’s just aggravating to me.

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  4. I am still skeptical re: the mass-digitization of all texts (i.e., skeptical about how much we’ve actually digitized/have access to). I was doing a BUNCH of research this summer, and I would say that 50% of the stuff I was looking at just simply isn’t available in any way digitally. Further, without access to a library database, that number quickly jumps to around 80 or 90%. I was even making physical copies in the library from physical books and journals, much more than one might anticipate.

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  5. tanuvein says:

    It’s influenced my ability to stay focused on a text, sometimes, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Often it will begin with me looking up a concept or word that I don’t recognize and end up with a half hour of researching that topic before I return to the original text. But as for it causing me to skim exclusively? Not at all. If something catches my interests early on, online or. otherwise, I will read it in detail to completion. This goes for both school readings and whatever crosses my screen online – anything I read for pleasure by default has my interests, and thus gets my full attention.

    re: digital texts, I doubt this will happen any time soon, but I don’t think the digitization of texts would even be a bad thing. There is nothing inherent in a physical book that makes it better than a digital one, since it is the idea we are alluded to. I do admit to a certain sentimentality in some physical copies I own, but if your main problem with digital texts is reading them on a monitor, I recommend investing in an ereader that uses e-ink instead of a backlight – it looks just like paper and is easy on the eyes.

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  6. Steph Roman says:

    It’s the online databases that are a huge factor here (though I’m somewhat relieved to hear that not EVERYTHING has been digitized yet). JSTOR and MLA have basically saved my life in college, but outside of the university my access to those sources is restricted. I suppose there’s the old-fashioned way of doing things: visiting libraries and finding out where the heck academic journals are kept.

    Books are books, though. It’s my unfaltering standpoint. E-readers don’t interest me. I’m sentimental for the physical copy.

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  7. plorei says:

    As someone who definitely has a very difficult time holding focus when reading a text, I would argue that the arrival of the ‘digital age’ has had a negative impact on my ability to read, and that of the rest of the millennial generation to a certain extent. People (parents) have always been skeptical of new forms of media, whether it’s music, television or video games. Each iteration of new media appears to be more and more stimulating and immersive, leaving those before it, like print reading, incapable of capturing one’s attention. For myself personally, the introduction of my first laptop upon arrival to college coincided with a sharp decline in free time reading. It seems to me that, although new media will not completely trump reading texts, it has reduced reading to more of a niche activity for readers, rather than the default medium for news, scholarly information, and entertainment, as it was for our parents, simply because it lacks the allure of fully-immersive video games or internet use.

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  8. Personally, reading online hasn’t impacted my physical reading abilities at all. As tanuvein briefly mentioned, it’s great to read online because you can immediately look up unfamiliar words and concepts. In contrast, I think that having a laptop and phone available at any time has made me even better at focusing, because I often force myself to pay attention to two or three things at once. However, I’ve been attached at the hip to technology for at least 12 years, so it could be argued that it’s just a matter of what you’re used to.
    I do believe that everything that’s written from now on will be digitized (as well as in physical form), but I could be completely wrong on that point, and there are certainly some things you can’t digitize. I also STRONGLY believe that there are far too many physical book enthusiasts like Steph that wouldn’t allow all books to be converted to digital copies. You just can’t digitize that special new book smell (or maybe you can?).

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