Monday, April 14, 2014

Skimming and diving - the art of reading

Are we really forgetting the art of reading? We are if you follow the media discussion that has been going on for several years now. The problem is that we have all become so used to skimming, scanning and zapping from site to site and channel to channel that we find it increasingly hard to simply read a book. This is the gist of an article in the Washington Post, Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say, which reports on concern from researchers that the art of deep reading is being lost in the blur of multitasking.

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” said Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

The new skills of scanning for information, checking other sources and quickly gaining an overview are of course essential but the big question is how to relearn slow reading? We need to learn to be biliterate; being able to quickly scan and skim for information as well as being able to concentrate on deep reading without distractions. The problem with reading on a tablet or laptop is that there are so many other fun things you can do. While you're reading it's so easy to check for any new posts on Facebook or respond to a tweet. It's often hard to switch the distractions off. A book on the other hand has no distractions, not even a photo, and we're simply not used to that anymore. The article gives several examples of even researchers who find it almost impossible to sit down and read a classic novel without getting itchy fingers reaching for the smartphone, just to check if I'm missing something.

The need to focus on deep reading in schools and colleges is certainly there but I wonder if things are as bad as such articles claim. We are multitasking more than ever but at the same time the sales of fiction (both print and digital format) are booming and the phenomenal sales of the Harry Potter series, fantasy literature and vampire fiction show that teenagers certainly do read lengthy works of fiction without any distractions. However I like the concept of building biliteracy and the importance of knowing when to skim and when to dive.

Read more on this theme in a new article in the Guardian, The internet isn't harming our love of 'deep reading', it's cultivating it.

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