Put Down the Tablet and Pick Up a Book

e reader

What do you use to read? Your phone? A tablet? An e-reader?

You should re-think what you read on these devices.

Experts are finding that the way our brains read is changing.  Hey, the brain is very adaptable, and that's a great thing!  But the brain's plasticity means that we are "use it or lose it" creatures: when we stop exercising certain skills, our brains take it as a signal to stop devoting so much energy or storage space to them, and eventually we lose the capabilities we haven't maintained.  (Adults out there: Remember your high school French? No? Exactly!)

A recent article in The Washington Post sheds light on why reading a screen is very different from reading a page in a book.  Your eye tends to skim and scan, looking for key words and phrases and small chunks of information.  This is a really important skill, don't get me wrong!  You need it for sifting through information for a research project or when you're reviewing material or studying for a test.

But studies are showing that comprehension suffers when we read a screen instead of a piece of paper!  Our eyes have been trained to jump around when they encounter a screen.  They look for small "sight bytes", and we miss a lot of what is going on.  Reading a novel on a screen means that you are losing important, subtle pieces of character, plot, theme, and syntax!

What's more, our brains are actually losing the ability to read and understand longer, more complex (and more interesting!) thoughts.  The shorter sentences found in online material are literally training us to be dumber.

What's the solution? It's not to stop reading on screens.  We live in a fantastically connected world.  Read your emails and Twitter updates online; check facts online; get the latest sports scores and headlines.  But when it comes to being immersed in a story, opt for the physical book.  Whether you are reading for school or enjoyment, give yourself the advantage of improved comprehension and retention!

A few centuries down the road, who knows - humans may have evolved into very different kinds of readers.  But for now, do you brain a favor: give it a chance to read slowly, to take in all the facts, and to process them effectively!  Put down that electronic device and pick up a book!