Is Digital Reading Making Us Stupid?

Nowadays, reading has become mostly digitalized and people read a lot of content on their computers, tablets, Kindle and mobile devices. Digital devices have become a central feature and the main sourceof media and content consumption in everyday life in households, offices and schools around the world.

As screen technology continues to improve in favor of readability, our user interfaces have become increasingly intuitive to account for this change.

Even though a lot of attention is paid to the aesthetics and design sides of this development, there is a dire need to address the various social, behavioral and cultural effects that may follow in the wake of a paperless world.

The Risk of Under-Developing Brain Capacity

Infants learn about words, sentences and stories long before they can read for themselves. Their vocabulary and oral language is developed when other people speak or read to them. A child experiences different changes that shape the brain step-by-step before becoming a fluent reader. In the initial phase of this process the child picks up on vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, it gives a child the time it needs to understand, predict and interpreting a text.

A slower pace allows us time for reflection, contemplation and wonder. Our reading brain rearranges itself more easily by creating a foundation for new, innovative thoughts and the development of advanced intellectual skills. The brain processes words and their meanings and provide the opportunity to weigh them up, reflect on them and to form their own opinions.

But the modern readers with immediate access to online information run the risk of under developing their brain capacity. Our children as young as five spend an average of six hours every day in front of some kind of screens, teenagers and adults probably more.

Between an individual and the limitless amount of free data that is available on the internet stand the few uncritical clicks of the mouse. Through this process, children may become mere decoders of information i.e. tricked into believing the unlimited access to information equals true knowledge.

The research into the implications of this are still in the initial stages; however the current evidence indicates that digital reading of content might be inferior in relation to comprehension and learning of books. Readers through the century have found that a text that they had studied attentively allowed them to regard it from a distance, to approach it critically and reflect upon what was written.

Today, we are increasingly communicating through text messages and e-mail rather than face to face, we become friends with hundreds of people online yet we may not know the people next door and the first place we look for information is Google.

A Society With Plenty of Answers But Very Few Good Questions

Our behaviors and attitudes are changing due to technological ubiquity and electronic flood. Internet has the power to lead to fundamental change in our brain, leading it to be tremendously modified. The digital networks have developed a culture of massive response. Being available all the time has left us no time to think properly about what we are doing.

The electronic euphoria has created fewer possibilities and fewer opportunities to develop an original mind and is chipping away at our ability to concentrate too. The digital devices are turning our brains into a society of scatterbrains; we are scrolling our days without even thinking deeply what we are really doing.

We are developing a society that might be globally connected and collaborative but one that is also impatient, isolated and filled with individuals who are unable to think by themselves in the real world.

To sum up the digital culture:

  1. The rapid response culture and ease of access to information is encouraging mistakes.
  2. Multitasking is increasing stress related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
  3. It is encouraging thinking that is devoid of context, reflection and awareness.
  4. We are living faster than we are thinking, we force ourselves to respond without thinking things properly.
  5. Our “speed is good” motive is having a negative impact on the economic growth or progress.
  6. Constant digital disruptions and too much information is atomizing our attention as well as splintering our concentration.

Human Brain: A Primary Tool for Economic Production

What makes us uniquely human is the kind of thinking that is associated with new ideas that moves the world forward. The type of thinking that is inherent in strategic planning, scientific discover and artistic invention. The thinking that is focused, considered, deliberate, independent, imaginative, calm, relaxed and reflective is what make our brains exceptional.

The knowledge revolution has replaced human strength as a primary tool for economic production. We are required to stop confusing movement with progress and get away from the idea that all communication and decision making have to be done instantly.

The following steps can be adopted to make our thinking more active:

  1. We can make more effective decisions if we walk away from a problem and allow our brain to mull it over from a different perspective.
  2. We need to focus on slower pace as it will have a positive impact on the economic growth.
  3. We need to focus on the reality that attention is power and it is trust in information that is critical.
  4. Our thinking needs to be not just deep but also wide, consenting for the cross-pollination of ideas and activities.

The attention restoration theory claims that, just like sleep is necessary for people, our brains need to take time out from the deluge of outside stimuli in order to relax and restore effective functioning. Doing so is one of the main ways of improving our mind and its capabilities.

Digital reading has its place, but the old traditional ways have a long-lasting charm and appeal according to this author.

Making a difference in others life though projects like #BeingGuru #Konbola #Truedrops.


  • The Blessed Guy

    Very nice!!!

  • Nemesis

    I read 4 to 5 Urdu / English novels on my atrix HD, damn I was worried that I may loose my eyesight one day, so I quit.

    • Not only eye-sight but using too much mobile phone can affect your sleep too.

  • Piku

    You mean reading this article made me stupid? :o

  • faaria

    very well written and informative article… made my day

  • Waqar Hassan

    Yes, this is true that internet and google have made us dependent. When we have a quesry at hand, instead of thinking on it logically, we immediately jump to google for the answers.
    For instance, i just came back from SPSC medical officer exam and i am trying to recall the answers by instantly looking for them on google instead of applying logics myself. This is just one example, however, all of these things have nothing to do with digital reading, instead it has to deal with the huge information available online.
    But this is future, we must embrace this modern age and technology and adapt to it.

  • Qureshi Manzoor

    You can’t read print for longer hours. You can’t go to liberaries for needed books. You can’t drive to meet friends on short notice. You can’t be in music room all time to listen favourites. You can’t shuffle dictionaries when you need correct spelling in every line. You have all this and much more in your palm screen. What else you want.

    When you have everthing in Google it needs a click to collect anything and everything for your memory bank. You may forget many things while storing so no worries another click will serve you with more information. Without internet the knowledge was slow on baby crawl. Now it has wings it has speed it has bridged the sand and stars. It has enriched the brain and taken it out of the stupid dust of misinformation and disinformation. Now you have WikieLeaks Panama Papers and much more sources to rely upon.
    Eyesight or health risk I am not sure until experts give their statistical opinion.
    Qureshi Manzoor
    Lahore

  • Bilal Iqbal

    How much of young class mates are able to calculate little bit complex mathematical/ statistical of physics numerical by hand/ on paper instead of using calculator/ computers etc… just because of dependency is being shifted towards digital solution and people are forgetting to know about the fundamentals of calculations being made by these machines and thus the way to innovation and cross checking the solution provided these digital gadgets is stopped by our changing behaviors…. we, in childhood were easy in arithmetic because of remembering the procedures and now if you ask some one any thing.. he/ she would rush towards mobile/ tab/ calculator etc to Find the solution instead of depending upon the Brain….

    • faaria

      making complex calculations with hands is not a measure of a person’s intelligence. by that logic now we go and buy meat from shop instead of hunt animals our-self. We depend on animal farms, butchers etc for our meat source. Does it mean we are becoming less powerful and losing our physical strength? Its just as humans progress, dependence is shifted to means which give better result with minimum effort

      • Bilal Iqbal

        I never meant to Reinvent the wheal.. but the point was that we are ignoring the importance the logic behind the inbuilt software’s and depending too much over them which some times creates ambiguity… also our handwriting as well as spelling memory are becoming worse day by day just because of typing and auto correct options as well as internet searches… I can’t ignore the importance of digital assistance by these tools but utilizing our brain is a way to keep it working properly else it would become dumb….

        • faaria

          yeah. I agree with that point. relying too much on these devices will ultimately make us useless without them

          • Bilal Iqbal

            I actually got serious about this issue recently when I came across an article in which a Theoretical Bomb was described, you can say it Electric bomb which would be able to create a shock of millions of vats of current for a fraction of second within a described area and it would result to destroy each and every Electrical devices including personal or army gadgets etc and the affected people will become useless as you mentioned… the same can happen in case of major electricity breakdown or enemy attack over power plants might lead to the same results.. there are several other scenarios like this…