Scientists have begun to examine the ways we absorb and process information now, what with our Internets and social medias affecting the way we read. In short, humans are losing the capacity to understand complex sentences and our attention spans are rapidly shrinking. Hopefully we didn't already lose you.
The Washington Post reports some scientists have noticed that the way we read on paper and on a screen is changing the way the brain processes information. Reading novels after a long day spent emailing, Facebooking, tweeting and IMing can be difficult, which is a drastic shift away from thousands of years of brain function:
The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.
Humans now are trained to scan for the most important bits of information and move on, like how we read online. But that's not how you're supposed to read Moby Dick, or Middlemarch. Longer sentences require concentration and attention, not a break to check Twitter every 45 seconds. The Internet, and how it has changed our reading habits, is making it difficult for people, particularly young people, to read classic works of literature because our brains are trained to bob and weave from one piece of writing to the next. And 600 pages is just so many pages, you know? Pagination is like, the worst thing to happen to my life, and without a "Read All" option? Melville definitely needed a UX developer.
There is some hope the brain won't completely shift from one form of reading to another. "We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age," Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, told the Post. We need to train our minds to read both on the page and on a screen, and incorporate a healthy diet of both into our daily lives. That means putting down your tablet to read a physical copy of a newspaper, a magazine, or — gasp! — a novel.
If you don't learn to regulate your digital diet, your relationship could suffer too. Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri's school of journalism, performed two studies from which he discovered that social media use, whether on Facebook or Twitter, increased a couple's chances that their relationship would end in disaster — either a break-up, a divorce, or an affair. The sample size is relatively small, so this should be taken with a healthy grain of salt, but generally you should look up from your screen more often and talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend, in real life. Don't tweet how much you love them, or they'll leave you.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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