By reading this on a screen are you getting more or less out of it? If you were reading it on a page you would be looking at the same words and they would translate the same information, but according to studies by Dr. Gary Small of UCLA in California, there is considerably more brain activity when reading on the internet than reading a book. Why? Decision making and distraction. According to Newsweek Magazine:
Small and colleagues monitored the brains of 24 adults as they performed a simulated Web search, and again as they read a page of text. During the Web search, those who reported using the Internet regularly in their everyday lives showed twice as much signaling in brain regions responsible for decision-making and complex reasoning, compared with those who had limited Internet exposure.
Attack First, Then Read
The gist of this is that if you publish your writing on the internet, though people will read it, it may not get as much attention as someone sitting down with the text and turning the pages. I know what I’m saying sounds obvious, but imagine reading a book and after every paragraph someone pokes you with a stick. After a page you’d get irritated and you probably wouldn’t get through a whole chapter before putting the book down and shoving the stick down the person’s throat. That’s what is happening when someone reads on the internet. They get email, chat requests, an idea from your text that they have to Google right then, or a ton of other distractions that don’t care whether you have written a rich involved story that deserves the attention of the reader.
Picking up a Book is No Longer Exercise
What the reader doesn’t know is that they are expending so much more effort to read your story on the internet. They would use their brains less and retain more if they just sat back with your text in their hands and read it. In an interview done on Frontline, Dr. Gray shows the results of his brain scan study of people reading a book and reading on the internet HERE (you want chapter 2 “What’s it doing to their brains?” minute 13:30) you will find that lesser is better when it comes to brain activity.
Later in the Frontline program, studies done on MIT students show that the new generation of readers have problems connecting the bigger picture. They write and read paragraph by paragraph. When they write, more often than not, the paragraphs don’t segue smoothly or at all. This leaves the overall flow of the writing piecemeal and almost technical in its style.
Pruning Away the Ability to Comprehend Great Literature
According to the Kaiser Family Institute young Americans between the ages of 8-18 are spending an average of 50 hours a week using digital media. That’s more than a full time job! The study at UCLA further found that children’s brains within the age span go through a process call “pruning”. They prune away 60% of their synaptic connections. All brain activity done during this time sets the pace and ability of their brains for the rest of their lives.
What does this have to do with reading? I speculated that children’s actual ability to read long forms of literature will diminish considerably. That leaves brilliant 19th & 20th century long form literature drifting away in a literary life boat. It also means that, as a writer, the way we write must change. Society isn’t going to change. Brains are now being rewired and as technology progresses. Brains of children not only in the domesticated countries with available technology will be effected, but children from developing countries, though behind, will have the same consequences. THIS WILL NOT CHANGE. It is up to the literary community to take excellent style and craft and translate it into a new form that will resonate with future generations.
Written by Jeremy Cairns.