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How Smartphones and Digital Screens Transform Minds

Are You Hard-Wired?
Digital Brain

Neuroscientists warn that people who use smartphones and digital devices for reading seem to be developing “digital brains”.

These online readers are developing new circuits designed for skimming through a flood of information online and skipping around through hyperlinked pages. This new alternative way of reading appears to be at odds with the traditional linear print reading circuitry developed over the past several thousands of years — from the birth of Egyptian hieroglyphics to the emergence of the Gutenberg press.

Many believe that online reading is not only transforming how we read, but our minds as well. Online readers skim, pick out key words, and organizing their eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. And, they do this at a rate too fast to ingest real meaning.

The question is, “Are we developing Twitter brains?”

If cable TV news gave the world the sound bites, the Internet has brought use eye byte culture. Today (2013), in the U.S. the avearge time spent by adults online now top five hours per day.

Scanning a smartphone or digital screen for information is a more superficial experience than reading and contemplating meaning from a book.

Digital technology and the process of increased scanning of information from our digital devices — smartphones, tablets, and laptops — is not only changing how we read, but how our brain processes the written word.

Consider the following: if you are constantly gazing at screens, texting (sms messaging) instead of talking one-on-one, communicating digitally with “friends” who you really don’t know all that well, and have few quams about insulting people with opinions different than your own, it’s got to eventually change not only who you, but the way you think.

Online Reading is Different Than Reading the Printed Page

When you read off of a digital device, your eyes bounce around, searching for little bits of information. It’s as though you are scanning for quick golden tidbits of information.
It’s easy to do as well, because you don’t have to do much processing of the information — you are just on a lazy hunt. No heavy lifting required here — you don’t have to transform (or process) anything you gather into “knowledge”. It’s as if you really don’t need to understand what you read, but just get the highlights.

Unlike Reading a Book, Digital Scanning Requires No Real Intellectual Commitment

Many people, it appears, go online to avoid spending the time to actually having to read (in the traditional sense). In one recent test, teenagers who read material off of a printed page understood the content significantly better than those who read the same text off of a digitial screen.

The Dangers in Online Schoolwork

Reading, in many ways, is the same process as thinking. Reading can transform minds and shape brains. Scanning digital text is more superficial — and generally, does not involve much in the way of either concentration or critical analysis.

A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students examined comprehension while reading the same text on a digital screen and in print. The students believed they scored better reading off of a screen. But both comprehension and learning scored higher on paper. Some people perform well off of both screens and print. They are called digital print bi-literates.

Reading a Book is a Deeper Experience

Deep reading goes beyond just reading a book or printed page.

It causes the reader to delve deeper, make associations, and set off on a string of thoughts. It’s harder work than just scanning for information.

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