Myth or Fact: Can Reading this Online Really Damage Your Brain?

Myth or Fact: Can Reading this Online Really Damage Your Brain?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 3:00pm

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A recent Washington Post article by Michael Rosenwald caught my attention last week, mostly because I saw my screen-addicted, content-overloaded self in the suggestion that our brains are re-wiring themselves to cope with the new way of reading (i.e. skimming and link-jumping between sources).
The human brain is remarkably adaptable, and there is a growing body of research documenting the digital age’s impact on how we read. It seems that the cognitive adaptability that is allowing us to successfully skim the sea of pixels is also resulting in a growing inability to plumb the depths.
Of course, one can argue how ironic it is to use online media to promote reading printed material… but that`s the point. The fact is, you would probably never have come across this post if it was printed. The power of digital is that it allow for global distribution with the click of a button. But with this gain, we also need to acknowledge that something fundamental may be changing in terms of how we read this content that is now so easily distributed.
According to Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist cited in Rosenwald’ s article, reading online has accustomed us to a non-linear way of jumping from one piece of information to another through all sorts of hyperlinks. Traditional reading is way more linear: words, sentences, chapters are arranged in sequential order.
Interestingly enough, Rosenwald points out that we don’t have specific genes for reading. Our body has genes for brain activities such as talking or listening, but the reading gene has yet to be discovered, if it exists at all. This means that the brain had to learn how to read as the human race evolves.
In the end, is reading a printed piece better for your brain? To me, the most important factor will always be the quality of the content, but this new research about the emerging “e-brain” is a wake-up call that the transmission ease of pixels doesn`t come without a cost. So for all you book lovers out there – how do you and your brain cope with the back and forth of screen-to-printed-page reading?
This article was first published on our blog Fiberlines: an online space where you’ll get insights about our business and our products, stories about our host communities, and opinion about industry innovation and sustainability trends.
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