An April 6 Washington Post article by Michael S. Rosenwald , Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say, raises a question many of us have been wondering about, and asking ourselves: Is, and if so, how is online reading changing our reading habits, and, as a result, our comprehension of what we are reading? And what do we, as business writers, need to know now about today’s most common communication practices?
In her remarkable book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf, Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, states that the brain was not designed for reading, but has adapted to reading.
Think about how you read online – social media, for one example. We may click on a promising link, look for a juicy tidbit or two, and skim on to the next promising thing. Cognitive neuroscientists project that this process is, in fact, changing the traditional reading process into scanning and skimming for paper reading as well, with eyes skimming until the reader realizes that he or she really did not focus on, and probably does not remember much of what he or she has read, having to go back and read it again to make sense of it. The apparent development of the “digital brain” with new circuits for skimming through torrents of online information is in direct conflict with “traditional deep reading circuitry” developed over several millennia.