Friday, June 14, 2013

On "Deep Reading" and Electronic Devices

by Derek Spencer

I think we can all agree that the practice of "deep reading" — the kind of reading that takes time, engages the emotions, and makes you think about important issues — is important for personal growth. When we read deeply we immerse ourselves in the writer's words and envision ways in which we can relate what we're reading to our own lives, to the lives of those we care for, and to the world at large.

In a post on Mind/Shift, Annie Murphy Paul alerts us to the differences between deep reading and the reading we do on the web, as well as to how these differences might be influencing the reading proficiency of students who are doing most of their reading on digital devices.

A choice quotation from the article:
A growing body of evidence suggests that online reading may be less engaging and less satisfying, even for the “digital natives” for whom it is so familiar. Last month, for example, Britain’s National Literacy Trust released the results of a study of 34,910 young people aged eight to sixteen. Researchers reported that 39% of children and teens read daily using electronic devices, but only 28% read printed materials every day. [. . .] The study also found that young people who read daily only onscreen were nearly two times less likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily in print or both in print and onscreen.
The last line of that quotation is particularly troubling. However, there's no mention of what these young people are reading on their electronic devices. Are they reading news articles? Youtube comments (notoriously caustic and poorly written)? Tumblr posts? Tweets? Facebook status updates? Works of literature? Might the quality of what they're reading be a factor in at least some of this study's findings? Does reading Things Fall Apart on a Kindle Paperwhite rather than paper negatively impact the reader's ability to engage with the text? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I think they're worth asking.

One thing I don't question at all is Paul's conclusion:
There’s another reason to work to save deep reading: the preservation of a cultural treasure. Like information on floppy disks and cassette tapes that may soon be lost because the equipment to play it no longer exists, properly-educated people are the only “equipment,” the only beings, who can unlock the wealth of insight and wisdom that lie in our culture’s novels and poems. When the library of Alexandria was lost to fire, the scarce resource was books themselves. Today, with billions of books in print and stored online, the endangered breed is not books but readers. Unless we train the younger generation to engage in deep reading, we will find ourselves with our culture’s riches locked away in a vault: books everywhere and no one truly able to read them.
You can read the full text of Paul's post here (and it's definitely worth checking out):

Mind/Shift: "The Case for Preserving the Pleasure of Deep Reading"

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Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at
Prestwick House. He's been known to pick up a book in the gloaming and relinquish it only upon reluctantly meeting the sun's luminous glance.

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