It’s common wisdom that reading short bursts of information online subtly changes the way you process paper-based written information, but here’s a nice comforting report on just how that works:
Researchers are working to get a clearer sense of the differences between online and print reading — comprehension, for starters, seems better with paper — and are grappling with what these differences could mean not only for enjoying the latest Pat Conroy novel but for understanding difficult material at work and school. There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.
The brain is the innocent bystander in this new world. It just reflects how we live.
“The brain is plastic its whole life span,” Wolf said. “The brain is constantly adapting.”
While all of this is undoubtedly true—I zoned out while reading someone’s Twitter profile the other day—and it doesn’t bode well for the continued survival of the works of George Sand and Thomas Pynchon, it’s worth remembering that every new media brings alarm in how it will change the kids. The ancient Greeks thought that writing stuff down would ruin the memory because before that you had to just memorize everything.
Reading online and on the printed page definitely affects aspects of comprehension and attention. I’m sure literacy will eventually be defined as being able to find things on Twitter. And that will be okay because everyone but that one old cranky dude will communicate via Twitter. Still: brain rot.