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Reading in the Digital Age: Why Skim Reading is Becoming More Common

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Let’s keep this brief.

Today society whizzes past us at warp speed! There are so many things to distract us, that it is now changing certain behaviors. You’re watching a YouTube video when a five-second commercial airs and it seems like it takes forever to get back to what you were watching. Or a web page at work loads so slowly that you decide to hop on social media via your phone until you can get back to browsing the web. When did it become so hard to be patient and wait?

The inability to put the phone down is a type of behavior that is now showing itself in the way society reads. More often than not, people skim what they read online, only grasping bits and pieces of the article. In Dr. Martin L Kutscher’s article, The Effects of Digital Technology on Reading, he tells Psychology Today about how screen time is interfering with in-depth learning. One of the things he attributes to this ongoing problem is hypertexts. He writes, “Hypertexts are the death of an author-driven line of reasoning. They take you all over, from place to place, author to author, subject to subject—and rarely return you to your jumping off point of that well thought out, comprehensive text that you started out with.  Instead, the viewer finds himself skimming sites (i.e., shallow reading) as he jumps around looking for the next quick rewarding tidbit.” Think about how all of this changes when you are reading a paperback book where hypertext is nonexistent.

Maryanne Wolf at the University of California Los Angeles is nervous about the way our society is heading in regards to reading. In an article published in The Guardian, Wolf went in-depth arguing why society needs a new literacy for the digital age. She cited that currently the most common ways people read are either by skim reading or scanning a piece of 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.” While it sounds like the quickest way to get through a news article, it’s not. You’ll have a hard time comprehending things and will end up spending more time rereading the article to understand it. This new type of reading behavior needs to change and revert to how society read well before the boom of the digital age. 

Furthermore, people are still debating as to whether or not digital devices play a role in all of this. Some say that reading on a tablet is distracting in it of itself. Especially when it comes to children, the temptation to exit out of a book and click on an app is way too tempting. Others say that reading on a digital device plays no role at all when it comes to why people are skim reading. To Dr. Kutscher’s point from above, you could be reading an article on a desktop and still run into the same issue. It has to do with the way articles are linked to one another. Wolf advocates for what she calls a ‘bi-literate’ reading brain which can comprehend text on both devices and paper. Society can still accomplish this so as long as bookstores still have their doors open.

So you could either skim, which we know isn’t good for the brain, or you can speed read. When you speed read, your focus is heightened, and you are able to read through the text above the average 350 words per minute while still understanding it. Speed reading strengthens focus and memory skills, which will also help in regards to getting distracted in an easily distracted world.

Find out more about our speed reading courses today and quit shallow reading!

(See, told you we’d keep this quick! 😉)

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