Last week The Takeaway examined how our brains react differently to words on a screen than they do to words on paper. On the screen our eyes dart and flit about, reading laterally and opportunistically. Reading on paper facilitates full attention, as we while away the day engrossed and enriched.
Or at least, this is what used to happen. Now the digital style of reading--which is efficient for scanning and getting a high-level overview--may be atrophying our print-reading-brains. As she related in Slate a few weeks ago, this is what Katy Waldman fears about her own reading. I understand Waldman's concern, as I share it myself these days when I endeavor to sink into a book. The Takeaway piece presents additional people who worry about the disappearance of their deep reading muscles, including one person who "was treating a book like he was treating his Twitter feed."
So what should we do? One solution is to continue to read books in print, or to print out online text that you wish to read more impactfully. Fair enough. Paper will be around for a long time, even as ereaders continue to proliferate.
But even as we retain paper we should not assume that it is impossible to read deeply on screens. Maybe ereaders can be offline by default. Maybe teachers can require students to craft essays on their ereaders which demand sustained engagement with the work at hand. Maybe we can follow Mike Ridley's lead, and devise new conceptions of literacy that do not draw binary distinction between "shallow" and "deep" reading.
Whatever we do, let's not despair.