Monday, January 17, 2011

In Defense of Deep Reading

I saw an article in the newspaper last week about the supposed decline of deep-reading. (Link)

Its main point was that with all that technology offers today, "deep reading," or reading while comprehending and critically thinking about the material, is on the decline.

This may statistically be true. But the article used several points that I would like to refute in the defense of deep reading. Granted, deep reading feels natural and right because that is all I know, but who knows what the future will hold? Below I argue several points in reading's favor and why, despite the demise of book stores, deep reading will always be with us.

#1: Twitter is taking over.
The article says, "Just last summer, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he was concerned about what he sees as a decline in slow reading. Instant messages and 140-character tweets appear to be taking over our ability to concentrate on a single idea or theme in a book, he told Foreign Policy Magazine."

Listen, Google CEO man. I put forth that people on Twitter are mostly educated. Twitter is a convenience, after all. It takes critical thinking to distill your message down into 140 characters. I disagree that short bursts of what is essentially chatter will replace the mind-nourishment of deep reading.

* Mr. Sierra hastened to point out that Ashton Kutcher's tweets get way more followers than, say, mine, and that the people tweeting about Ashton are probably not good examples of educated, clever people. I maintain that they could be, if they would stop talking about Ashton Kutcher.

#2: Hyperlinks on Web pages are too fast.
The article says, "It's easy to forget the benefits of deep reading in an age where anything worth doing is done fast, Canadian author John Miedema says. We surf the Internet, gather snippets of information and click hyperlinks that bring us to different topics and authors, he says ... "The Web is essentially a distraction machine. Hyperlinks are meant to take you away from where you are."

Um, yeah, because hyperlinks are what the web should be about! Yes to hyperlinks!
Web pages must allow you to move through as you will! That is not deep reading, that's called usability! And it's dictated by the medium! This isn't an argument. I reject this point and don't know why it's in the article.

I will concede this point, however:
'"I can appreciate people's desire to read faster," Miedema says. "But if you want to have a deep relationship with a text and understand a complex idea, then slow reading is a preferred style. It's good for pleasure, too. It's not a rushed experience and you can lose yourself in a text."'

Yes, true. Which is why if you're designing a research site for students, don't include hyperlinks. Make it so they stay on your page. Again, the usability should be dictated by the medium.

#3: Technology affects how we read.

The article says, "Mirit Barzillai, a child-development doctoral candidate at Tufts University of Boston, focuses on literacy and says researchers are just starting to study how people process what they read on websites. [Barzillai says,] "There are so many different and new places to read these days -- online, with electronic readers, on the phone -- that there isn't a lot of research looking at the processes of reading and how technology affects it."

I'll tell you how technology affects it: POORLY. The reason is that because until now, reading on screen has SUCKED ROCKS. Until we had e-readers with "e-ink," reading on a computer screen was the poorest of the poor. It still is. E-readers are changing this, but until screen resolution improves, we will not turn to computers or the internet for deep-reading because resolution is so crappy. I mean, come on.

Finally, the article ends by proving all my arguments:

"Ohlone College English professor Cynthia Lee Katona...was late in picking up her first book -- she didn't start reading novels until she was 14 -- but she's a voracious reader today. She says reading is a highly social activity that builds the mind and social connections. If you read, she says, you simply know more and have more to talk about with friends, partners and acquaintances."

Right, because reading is delicious and nutritious and nothing beats it. Thank you Ms. Katona for underscoring that point and supporting my argument that those who know how to deep-read aren't going anywhere. And we already know how important it is to train our young to enjoy it as well.

What do you think? Is deep reading declining? I'd love to hear your opinions on this, especially differing ones. (But ones that are in complete and total agreement with moi are obviously welcome too.)

Also, on Wednesday I have a LOVELY TREAT for you in the form of an entry for a FREE BOOK!! Yes! Check back!

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