species’ bridge to insight and novel thought’. This form of reading is an interactive process that engages the furthest reaches of our mind and is essential to our development not just as language-users but as members of society.
These processes are in stark contrast to ‘skim reading’, which Wolf sees as detrimental at the level of learning and indeed brain development. Because with skim reading, in her words, ‘you don’t have time to think or feel’.
Skim reading, as it is inculcated by screens, puts an emphasis on surface connections, and assimilating information from words and sentences as quickly as possible. Wolf cites research which found declines in students’ comprehension when reading information on screens rather than print. More than 80% of schoolteachers surveyed in the USA report a ‘shallowing’ effect by screens on students’ reading comprehension.
It must be said here (as Wolf herself acknowledges) that research on the effects of technology on brain development is still in its early stages. Sometimes one wonders whether we are over-estimating its negative effects. There are those who suggest that we are indeed doing just this and are in the grip of ‘mass hysteria’ regarding children’s interaction with technology. They argue we should at least wait until the research is more developed before jumping to conclusions.
However, with the research that we do have at our disposal, in the form of neuroimaging, we can observe how reading in print activates deeply those parts of the brain that are typically used for feeling and movement in ways that reading on screens does not.
The reason for this is because reading in print requires a more sustained, active attention. With screens, we are constantly being harangued by the next tab, the tempting hyperlink, and the advertising bar looming at the side.