Maryanne Wolf, a renowned reading expert, wasn’t too surprised when she realized she was falling short on her reading list. She had been researching the effects of digital technology for a while and knew exactly what was happening to her brain. She was experiencing ‘digital chain hypothesis.’
Wolf explains: “The reading brain is a ‘use it or lose it’ phenomena. When you use your reading brain to multitask and you get it used to that, it becomes accustomed to it.”
The real danger of digital distraction, according to Wolf, is that it diminishes our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection.
Reading can also help you get a job that won’t be taken over by robots. “The more we know about what we need in addition to robots are the jobs that require creativity, imagination and the human body. We must get back to our critical minds. It’s the same thing that allows us to be sensual human creatures,” Wolf says. Her new book, “Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World” is a roadmap to help people claim back their focus.
Wolf agreed to share some tips from the book. Below is an edited transcript:
Shallow reading VS. Deep reading
Shallow reading is a more basic kind of reading, a fast reading, such as a magazine or your emails which are not important. Shallow reading can also be considered when you only have a little time to give, like word spotting and skimming. While this is appropriate for a lot of everyday material, if you truly want to read a book for either pleasure or to extract knowledge you will remember forever, then you have to allocate more time and use what I call ‘deep reading processes’.
How to return to ‘deeper reading’
You’re going to have a hard time since you are used to reading one way now. It’s okay to read new books that people may recommend to you or that you may have prior knowledge about, but I recommend going to that after reading a beloved book. Slow yourself down and give it a good week or two to return to the way. Don’t try to read it all at once. In fact, I would begin by reading only a half an hour at a time. Expect to have some obstacles.
Hard copies are the way to go
It’s very important that the material in front of you is printed out and that you have a hard copy, not a Kindle or readings off the Internet. You want to ask yourself ‘What is MY critical take on this information?’ and focus your attention here.
I would begin by reading only a half an hour at a time. Expect to have some obstacles.
Don’t just gobble down information
The goal is to be critically analytical. Don’t just gobble down information because it is right there in a book. The problem right now is that people see things that are false or fake news and they accept it because they stopped training their critical mind by not asking important questions. In order to be critically analytic you have to give time to digest your own personal feelings about the material.
We are becoming so narrow in our reading, for example, that we are no longer taking on the perspective of others as much as we should. That leads us to be vulnerable to people who tell us what to do and who our enemies are. And instead of building bridges across our differences, a lot of people are exaggerating the differences. And reading IS empathy.
Give yourself a daily break from screens
I do it myself, I turn all the lights off two hours before bed. It’s very difficult. Many of us have to check our emails and prepare for the next day, but if you do it before that two-hour end of the day- into the night time, that is a beautiful time to return to the beloved book that will calm your mind when you are in fight or flight mode. It’s important for us to find ways to calm our nervous system because everyone is different.