Skim Reading: Screen Distractions Matter

Recently, an article in The Guardian caught my attention. The article’s author claims that “skim reading” or reading without grasping the complexity of what we’re reading is the new normal. And our habit of reading on screens instead of reading print novels is at fault.

There has long been a debate about whether reading digitally or in print is better. As someone who works around books all day, I’m often asked, ” Do you prefer to read print books or e-books”? The answer is that I honestly have no preference. E-books and print books both have their pros and cons and e-ink screens are easier to read on than most digital screens. However, e-books and print books are not really at issue here. The issue is, as the author puts it, innovation that disrupts and diminishes how we read.

I appreciate that the author is not re-hashing the old argument of print vs. e-book, but I’m not sure she gets to the root of the problem which is that the internet is designed to distract us. Facebook, Twitter, and news sites are covered in ads, pop-ups interrupt articles, and scroll bars on the sides of pages invite us to skip ahead. The current digital culture, as authors like Nick Carr  describes in his book The Shallows,  is designed to distract us. In fact, in his book, Carr describes this very issue of deep reading and how the internet is re-wiring our brains. This argument about deep reading and what we lose by losing our ability to pay attention and analyze text critically, has been around for some time as well.

So what is the solution to this reading problem? The article author suggests that we “cultivate a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums,” but unless the current changes or we make changes to our reading habits, that bi-literate reading brain may  not come to fruition.

In order for society to function properly, we must be able to read and think deeply and I believe a few specific changes could help the way we read.

1. Longform reading should be done in print or on e-ink.

2. If you don’t have an e-reader or the item in print, take breaks. Your eyes need rest.

3. When you’re reading digitally, turn on an ad blocker. It’ll help clean up the page.

And perhaps most importantly,

4. Make a habit of reading slowly or even re-reading an article more than once if you’re reading it digitally.

Oh, and don’t be a Luddite. Even the internet is good in moderation.

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