“The attention span of a computer is only as long as its electrical cord.“–Dan Rather
Because of the internet, emailing, and text-messaging on cell phones, we actually do more reading now than we did in the seventies and eighties when television was our main medium of information. But the internet has changed the way we read–and not entirely for the better. Don’t get me wrong. I love Google.
Doing research before the internet was a challenging, time-consuming endeavor. Internet has revolutionized research. How quickly we can find information–just a few keystrokes. We can find out how long it takes to drive from Columbus to New York. A few more strokes, and we can find an article written for The Atlantic Monthly in 2008. You want to read Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem, “Richard Cory”? Google it. Curious how much your neighbors paid for their house? It’s online.
But online reading is changing the way we read. Tufts University psychologist Maryanne Wolf says that reading online makes us “mere decoders of information.” Our attention spans are shorter, and we want information in little nuggets, quickly, as we haven’t time to read entire articles and books. And the format makes it harder to concentrate. In our speed reading courses the first step we do when reading a journal article is the Overview. We look at all of the extras first–along with the bold headings, we read the side bars and the boxed material. We do that to get prior knowledge and to keep from being distracted.
With the internet, concentration is constantly broken because the extras pop up all around you purposely trying to distract you and to have you click on a link that takes you somewhere else. No more concentration!
Wolf points out that “we weren’t born to read. We were born to speak.” So neither form of reading is more “natural” than the other. Each new technology has had its doomsayers. When the printing press was invented and made books more readily available, critics fretted that men would become intellectually lazy and that scholars and religion would be undermined. The typewriter changed the way people wrote. Long flowing prose gave way to more concise writing, but what was lost in descriptive passages was gained in more realistic dialogue. The novel’s loss was the screenplay’s gain.
The advent of the computer has made us a more impatient people: We want information, and we want it now. Nobody wants to return to the days of the card catalog, microfilm, and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Index. If the advent of the internet and texting has you struggling to get through books, there is a solution: Speed Reading. In this day of wanting information more quickly, speed reading enables you to stay focused on your text and get your information quickly. Even if you don’t take a course, we have other blogs to help you read faster. This link will help you read hard copy and electronic media faster.
It is hard for even me to stay focused when trying to read internet articles. I get emails with links for news updates in several papers. I feel it is important to be informed, so I read them and get irritated by the things that have nothing to do with the article (unlike in hard copy). I have trained myself to use our peripheral vision techniques for just the text of the article and to completely ignore anything above, below, or on the sides. The internet tool pop-up blocker helps, but not always. Try to ignore links that are trying to lure you and find the x close button for the ads as quickly as you can. And growl–it’ll make you feel better!
To read more about technology’s effect on reading, click on the following link:
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
–Judith Barker and Bonnie James