Digital world affecting our brain’s quality of attention and deep reading?

We are living in a digital world. Kids, since their very first birthday, are used to digital devices and gadgets and learning things in fastest way. Even with a safe evaluation, more than 80% of work is now being done through online facilitation. We satisfy our thirst of information and news through e-newspapers and social media networks, and this is the reason that in Europe only circulation of printed newspapers declined 15 to 30 % as compare to 2016.

No doubt, technology paved our ways in different aspects of life, but alongwith also affected our way of reading. Most of us, especially teenagers, cannot concentrate and sit still on a single subject more than 5 to 10 minutes. Reason behind this approach is the variety of available material to read and multiple topics to discuss, but in this way we are losing our touch with reality and ability of deep reading. Our ways, of reading, choosing of reading, reason of reading and thinking after reading, are changing at a faster pace. Our abilities of deep-reading are being changed by digital age, although we need them very much.

Brain is converting its deep-reading quality to skim reading habit…

I recalled that in my teenage, I used to read, rather joyful read, daily newspaper for at least half an hour attentively. Unfortunately I’ve lost this habit of deep-reading and using more than ten mediums of news and information, without mentioning e-newspapers. There is a big difference between deep-reading and surface reading. American author and neuro-scientist Maryanne Wolf reveals the disparity between deep-reading and skim-reading, in her book “Reader Come Home”. She says when we read deeply, as I also experienced, while deep-reading we construct images to help our understanding, although there is no explicit pictures in the text.  For example, she mentioned short story of Ernest Hemingway consisting upon only six words i.e. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. At first glance, out of many possibilities, one can think that pair of shoes was purchased but due to unhappy incident he could not wear the shoes even for one time. Now there is nothing such mentioned in the story, but our brain while taking into account previous knowledge and experience, made a picture of story and that’s the beauty of deep-reading that you put your brain on some exercise without pushing it to another direction.

Feel of Empathy …

While images generates different inferences about the story, another process of reading comes in i.e. perspective absorbing. We read the story and engage ourselves inside the story by seeing from perspective of shoes’ owner and restructuring how they must feeling and in what way they are thinking. This Empathy is unique with reading and permits us to see the world from different viewpoint and understand someone else. Digital reading, somehow, affected our ability to empathize and continuously affecting. In 2011 University of Stanford conducted a study to look into empathy in college students, and regretfully empathy in young students declined by 40% over the last ten years. Reason behind this is that our attention is more split which obstacles deep-reading.

Earlier, people consumed information as a whole, either by devouring a novel or read a hefty portion of daily newspaper. But that has been changed, as our hunger for data has grown-up. In 2009 Global Information Industry Center, University of California, in its report mentioned that in 2008 average person in America daily consumed 34 gigabytes of data corresponding around 100,500 words. Today, we quickly skip from one topic to the next, which suggests that our concentration is being divided into ever shorter intervals, and that’s not good news for our ability to read and deep thinking.

A live experiment:

For example neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, unintentionally, observed this when in order to keep pace with the data she had to produce daily, she found herself spending more time with emails. After a longtime, as an experiment, she tried to reread her favorite book, Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi (The Glass Bead Games), with the approach that it would give her an insight into as how much brain’s circuitry changed. And result is, she failed…. Even she couldn’t finish book on her first attempt. She felt that the plot was irritatingly slow, language was much complex and overall effect was thickness. Sentences which she would read speedily now baffled her and requiring patient reading. It took almost two weeks to adjust her brain and rediscover her old skills reading.

Kids are vulnerable to this addiction having serious effect on their brains.

Actually brains enjoy quickly moving between different tasks and attention grabbing things, and this multitasking is part of an addictive cycle. This is entirely different from satisfaction we gain from paying continuous attention to something, which requires careful training and patience. Adults mostly understand deep and long-term reading and after some practice, can get rid of it. But children, whose brains are still developing, find it harder to resist the appeals of short-term incentives. Before they reach adulthood their prefrontal cortexes (brain’s part which is in charge of attention), doesn’t have good understanding of long-term incentives. Plus they are not much expert in self-control to resist instant satisfaction. In this way children are highly susceptible to this fragmentation. They skip from video clips, to games, to song to social media and back, and could not control their novelty bias.

It’s the start of a ferocious cycle. All these inspiration and stimulation triggers the release of hormones which are associated with stress and fight-or-flight response i.e. adrenaline and cortisol, which has its hazardous effects on child’s brain. A young child spending too much time in this nervous state ultimately will become addicted to these ever-increasing doses of stimulation. Unfortunately, children nowadays spend most of their time with digital gadgets. In 2015, a research report published by American think tank RAND Corporation, on average children between 3 to 5 years old, daily spent four hours on these devices and upto the age of eight 75% of children have access to digital gadgets which is an increment of 52% as compare to 2013. These disturbing statistics persuade to ensure that next generation avoid irreparable harm to their brains.

Reading crisis…

Study shows that there is big crisis in United States, and growing children needs support. According to survey conducted in 2003, 93 million people in U.S can only read at or below basic level. National Assessment of Education Progress concludes that 60% of American 4th graders (aged 9 to 10) are not proficient readers. Not only kids are missing joys of good book but poor literacy level also has bad effects on society. Ms. Cinthia Coletti, who is philanthropist and author of renowned book “Blueprint for a Literate Nation” pointed out in her book that there is a relationship between 4th grade reading level and possibility of later on students’ dropping out of school. Interestingly, it is so established that in order to determine that in future how many prison beds they’ll need, state prison department uses statistical data on reading level.

Our kids need support to learn…

In running tech-life, it is much important that kids must get support in home and school, especially at least upto 4th grade. Why? Because 4th grade is some kind of education bar at that point and kids suddenly tackled with challenging subjects and teachers assumed that kids are able to read without assistance. Resultantly kids struggle hard and felt frustrated and start acting out. Teachers should be adequately prepared to deal with literacy issues.

Knowledge to productivity to entertainment to contemplation…

Greek philosopher Aristotle in his best work on Ethics namely “Nicomachean Ethics” mentions that there are three lives of good society i.e. one devoted to knowledge and productivity, second to pursuit and third to thought, which should be lives of readers. First life of a reader should be about learning and gathering knowledge, in second life they should enjoy the things like happiness of discovering fascinating historical facts. Joining together, it lead to third life i.e. contemplation. Contemplation is deeply personal empire where we put the things we read, guide our thoughts about the world around us. This phase make us capable to translate the experiences and knowledge we gained in our first and second lives into wisdom.

In coming times, digital media will play greater role in our lives, the best way of preserving our capacity to read and think deeply may come down just like that i.e. by creating the space and time in order to roam and mature our thoughts. That, in no way, mean to reject the marvels of technology, but what really matters is learning to get the finest from both worlds.

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