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Skim Reading is a pest

Skim Reading is a pest. I got way too comfortable with high speed scrolling over long text in search for keywords to find out if the text is worth reading, while you never read it anyways and then you just leave it at that under the impression that you took up some information while actually you did not and I'm looking to change that. So, everyday I take an hour or two and go "offline" with a book and focus.

However, here's an article I just skimread and found worth sharing: Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound.

This whole article is one of the reasons why I'm pretty strict conservative on „digital educational issues“ (I am, believe it or not). Keep gadgets out of the classroom and let kids write by hand. No smartphones. No tablets. Only physical or discoursive interaction with information. There is no real alternative, The Digital can merely add to that, not subsidize.

And, to be honest, this article mentions research which states, that shit like skim reading affects development of empathy. The outlook of this bit fills me with longterm-horrors, given that kids on social media face unimaginable social pressure anyways. What a great cool future we created, guys.

Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.

Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes, human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.”

US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade - with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.

The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.


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