Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

This was of varying quality, much lukewarm but occasionally good, dissecting the important issue of what’s going on with our brains when we skim vast quantities of digital content and then apply those surface-reading skills to books. Some of the chapters—er, “letters” (an unfortunate choice by Wolf to make the work more approachable, she crafts each chapter as a Dear Reader letter)—were worthy of deep reading but most were fine to casually breeze through, especially if you’re not particularly invested in what’s happening with children’s minds. So is deep reading endangered? Are years of screen reading changing the way that we think and read and pay attention when we deal with difficult, dense texts?

The fourth chapter (I’m refusing to call them “letters”) was the best, entitled What Will Become of the Readers We Have Been? In it, she posits that yes, we’re encouraging our brains to reshape to do more surface reading. “When we read for hours on a screen whose characteristics involve a rapid speed of information processing, we develop an unconscious set toward reading based on how we read during most of our digital-based hours. If most of those hours involve reading on the distraction-saturated Internet, where sequential thinking is less important and less used, we begin to read that way even when we turn off the screen and pick up a book or newspaper.”

This sent panic surging through me although my wild thirst for reading may be keeping me better fit for the exercise. I, too, have noticed my inattention while nestled in the chair reading a book. My mind flits, I give in and put the book down for awhile. But I have not lost the ability to give myself over completely, I do not struggle to read or re-read the complex works which have delighted me all these decades.

“The issue is never just about how many words we consume or even how we read in the digital culture. It is about the significant effects of how much we read upon how we read and the effects of both upon what we read and remember…[and] what we read further changes the next link in the chain, how things are written.”

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Discovered originally by following her son Ben’s art feed after seeing his eyeball sculpture at Minnesota St. Project gallery