How Is Tech Changing the Way We Read?

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With the rise of social media and smartphone use, we are all reading fewer books than we once did. All, not just those pesky millennials. Some people are worried about what this means for the future of literature and, well, our brains. But is it true that we are really reading less? And should I care?

Above The Noise recently did a video in which Myles covers some of the research on reading.

I always appreciate it when a Youtuber or Journalist manages to discuss a topic without devolving into head-shaking admonishment, especially when it comes to the topic of reading and books. Too often these sorts of videos and articles cite bad research or buy into industry propaganda.

I’ve previously discussed the misrepresentations made about reading ebooks, the overstating of the benefits of reading – when there are some well-researched benefits documented –  and even the way we write. And the Pew Research into reading was one of several references I’ve used in my discussion of Who Reads, something I cover quite a bit here.

And yet, there were still some things in the video that I hadn’t been aware of. So I think it is worth sharing. Enjoy.

From the video:

Reading has been an important part of the human experience for thousands of years, but believe it or not, that’s not a long time on the evolutionary timescale. Before the internet, it made sense to read long texts in a linear fashion, but that’s now changing as people are adapting to skimming shorter texts on their computers or phones. But what does this mean for the future of books?

What is literary reading?

Literary reading is, quite simply, the reading of any literature. This includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.

Are we reading less?

The rate at which Americans are reading literature for fun is down around 14% from the early 1980s. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are reading less, however. Many people still have to read for school or work. Then there are all the words, sentences, and messages we read on the internet from emails to texts to tweets. Some people believe that this means we are possibly reading more individual words than ever. It’s just being done in a different way. I’ve also discussed the decline of literature.

And this is changing our brains?

Some neuroscientists believe that scanning shorter texts the way we do on the internet, often jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, is actually changing the wiring in our brains. We are becoming better at searching for key terms and scanning for information, but this means it can become more difficult to read a longer text all the way through without missing major points.

SOURCES:
Children, Teens, and Reading
The long, steady decline of literary reading
Who doesn’t read books in America?
Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

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Millenials aka Kids These Days

I’m not a fan of the “kids these days” arguments and memes that make their way through social media via the express head shaking admonishment brigade. I’ve written previously how the arguments are recycled garbage, as old people have been complaining about young people since the invention of youths.

You may have seen this image:

kids on their phones

That’s right: self-involved kids looking at their phones instead of the amazing work of art behind them. How dare they! Shake your fist at the sky.

Of course, they aren’t self-involved narcissists, at least not any more so than other people in society. That is actually a group of students that have just finished admiring the artwork and receiving a lecture on the Rembrandt and are now using the museum guided tour app to learn more. To quote:

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

I would like to think that all those who liked, posted, shared and tweeted the picture of children on smartphones by Rembrandt’s masterpiece in the erroneous belief that it illustrated everything that is wrong with society feel a tiny bit silly and a little more humble as a consequence. But it won’t happen. The tragic thing is that this — the truth — will never go viral. So, I wonder, what is more likely to bring about the death of civilisation, children using smartphones to learn about art or the wilful ignorance of adults who are too quick to make assumptions?

Whether it be art, technology, manners, or just plain old-fashioned respect for elders, people seem far too quick to complain about kids these days. It always seems to have been better in the good old days, as long as you ignore the wars, child death rate, education levels, work and social rights, equality, food…. actually I’ll stop that list now before I run the point into the ground. So take any of these arguments, images, and claims with huge pinches of salt, as there is probably a parallel version from a previous generation.

tech making us antisocial

Some more “kids these days”

I’m not a fan of the “kids these days” arguments and memes that make their way through social media via the express head shaking admonishment brigade. I’ve written previously how the arguments are recycled garbage, as old people have been complaining about young people since the invention of youths.

You may have seen this image:

kids on their phones

That’s right: self involved kids looking at their phones instead of the amazing work of art behind them. How dare they! Shake your fist at the sky.

Of course, they aren’t self involved narcissists, at least not any more so than other people in society. That is actually a group of students that have just finished admiring the artwork and receiving a lecture on the Rembrandt and are now using the museum guided tour app to learn more. To quote:

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

I would like to think that all those who liked, posted, shared and tweeted the picture of children on smartphones by Rembrandt’s masterpiece in the erroneous belief that it illustrated everything that is wrong with society feel a tiny bit silly and a little more humble as a consequence. But it won’t happen. The tragic thing is that this — the truth — will never go viral. So, I wonder, what is more likely to bring about the death of civilisation, children using smartphones to learn about art or the wilful ignorance of adults who are too quick to make assumptions?

Whether it be art, technology, manners, or just plain old fashioned respect for elders, people seem far too quick to complain about kids these days. It always seems to have been better in the good old days, as long as you ignore the wars, child death rate, education levels, work and social rights, equality, food…. actually I’ll stop that list now before I run the point into the ground. So take any of these arguments, images, and claims with huge pinches of salt, as there is probably a parallel version from a previous generation.

tech making us antisocial