I found this article thought provoking and worth sharing as I am a avid lover of books, in both paper and electronic format. What do you think? Is it not possible to deep read in an electronic book format? I find that reading on the iPad may come with a few distractions, but I also really enjoy being able to quickly look up related information to further explore ideas, facts, words, and so on. Doesn't that constitute deeper reading, and in a way that was not possible for much of the history of traditional books? What do you think – will deeper reading disappear because as eBook become predominant?
The majority of us take reading for granted. Words are laid out on the page in a set format. Spaces exist between each word. Without these spaces it would be very difficult to read any text. How would we know when one word ended and another started? As strange as it may seem this is how documents were originally written. The only way to read something was to do it out loud so that you could work out each word.
Books, books, books – history and facts
This was incredibly hard work and not something that occurred anymore than was necessary. It was only in the Middle Ages when an anonymous scribe started to add spaces and reading became easier. It became possible to think about the meaning of the text not just work out the words.
This paved the way from some of the deeper works of art; people were able to read in solitary. Digesting and arguing with the various arguments and theories put forward. By the 15th century the printing press had been created and books became cheap enough to be a mainstream activity.
Reading books in the present day – a dying activity
Fast forward a few hundred years and books are now being pushed aside. There’s now a multitude of ways to read without looking at a book. Social websites, television and our phones take up most of our time and reading suffers accordingly.
It is not easy to read deep and meaningful texts on any sort of screen. There are many distractions available –pop up ads, links, tweets and text messages all of which prevent our minds from digesting and arguing with the more philosophical writings. The brain becomes so overloaded with all these distractions that in many ways we are returning to the days of no spaces in between words. We’re only able to scan the information presented not read in depth.
Some psychologists have concerns that deep reading is a skill learnt in our neural circuits and that the current distraction reading will eliminate our ability to deep read. We would effectively decode a text not interpret it. There have been suggestions that the growing popularity of e-books would prevent this from happening. Whilst some of the electronic readers are exceptionally good at being electronic books, it seems likely that the more popular this trend becomes the more adverts or targeted marketing will appear on these reading devices and the result will be the same.
The growing popularity of e-books
As e-book popularity grows, publishers are looking at new ways of attracting readers and increasing sales. These tactics seem to primarily revolve around pictures, links and social network sites. Unfortunately these are the very distractions that will prevent deep reading. Evidence of this can be seen on any page of the internet. It is highly likely that if you go onto any page now you will find advertisements down the right side of the page and a variety of links embedded into the text.
Optimising the search capabilities and adding tools such as cut and paste will, in the words of a Google company executive “allow books to live an even more exciting life”. Whilst these tools may indeed be useful, we have to question why a book would need an exciting life. A book is just writing, page after page of text. It comes alive when we read it and lose ourselves in it – regardless of whether it is a masterful suspense thriller or a deep religious argument.
Books do not need to be exciting. The publishers need the books to be exciting to increase sales. Ironically, this marketing tactic is reducing the value of the book as we no longer are able to deep read. Text skimming is replacing deep reading, and that’s also because today’s books are written in simpler terms. There’s no depth anymore because people want practical advice. They want useful information, and sometimes to express a point, authors must give up the challenging words and stick to the basics.
Does this mean we’re losing our ability to understand academic terms? Not quite; however, there’s some truth to the fact that authors want to sell their books, and they won’t be able to do that if the text published is too complex for the average reader.
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