On Understanding the Digital Reading Process

DSC_5146 (1)  I am interested in digital reading, whether it’s an e-book novel, an informational website, or an e-textbook for my students. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fanatic who wants to go totally digital. I still love to read on paper too. Don’t even try to take away my morning newspaper or the feel of a glossy magazine, both symbolizing a lack of obligation to read every word and an opportunity for sweet, slow perusal. I also enjoy reading novels in paper form, and the feel of a hefty book as I walk into the doctor’s office waiting room for what seems like eternity.

Yet I am fascinated with what occurs in our minds when we read digital text. I don’t know nearly enough about this process, and I am eager to learn more. Thus I am curious about the folks out there who are questioning whether all of this digital reading is good for us – for our mind and our thinking and the process of reading.

I first noticed this questioning with a 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid”, espousing the tendency for pointing and clicking, rather than a slower, more thoughtful reading. Marianne Wolf, in her 2008 book “Proust and the Squid” also wondered if technology, and more specifically, digital reading shifts the way our brain is wired to receive and express language.

Now jump forward to 2015, where we seem to have barely inched closer to understanding the digital reading process and its implications. Naomi Baron, in her book “Words on Screen” believes there are inherent characteristics of digital reading that work against a reader’s attempt at reaching a deep understanding. For one, the organization of text on a website, utilizing an F pattern, encourages the reader to read the title, skim or skip the explanation, then pop down to the next title and skim or skip again. In addition, we are often doing this digital reading on a device that supports other tasks, such as receiving a text, listening to music, and sharing a photo, all while reading an e-text. The potential for distractions is unlimited.

Paul Mason extends this link of thinking about digital reading to question whether authors are responding to this tendency to read on a surface level by creating texts that facilitate less than deep reading. His 2015 article “Ebooks Are Changing the Way We Read and the Way Novelists Write” wonders if these changes in the format of text and the ways we read signal a digital transformation of reading and writing.

There is much to ponder about the digital reading process, and it will take this type of collective thought to question and understand this complex process.

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