I read an interesting article in the August 2013 issue of The Writer, Internet Brain by Hillary Casavant, about various studies involving brain activity when reading. Evidently the neurological effects of reading fiction offer some great stimulation for the brain, from invoking sensory responses to allowing us to empathize better with others. Reading, say the scientists, is a complex action that develops deep focus and gives our brains a boost.
Online reading did not fare so well by comparison. When we're on the Internet we are flooded by so much information that our minds have to skim instead of focus. We read and think in the shallow manner required by such multi-tasking, and while interesting, evidently to keep doing this for long periods of time is mentally exhausting.
I don't spend enough time online to get tired of it; one hour a day is my max -- that was about average for all Americans back in 2011, according to the article. One other statistic from the article rattled me a bit, and that was that at the time of the same survey Americans were watching five hours of television per day. Disclaimer: I don't turn on the television most days, and the few times per week that I do it's to check the Weather Channel for the Local on the 8's or any tropical storm report, so that's why it shocked me. I can't imagine sitting in front of a television watching the broadcasts for five hours every single day.
I think this is interesting from another perspective, too. I have noticed that I read faster -- pretty much in skimming fashion -- when I use the e-reader. When I settle down with a print book, I'm much slower to turn the pages. Using the e-reader is a lot like being on the Internet or watching television, plus I don't consider it a book; it's a device. A device to me is a tool, to be used for work, while a print book is a pleasure to be enjoyed.
While I appreciate whatever time and shelf space the e-reader saves me, it hasn't made the reading experience more enjoyable; I think it's the opposite. I started reading quite a bit on it at first, but after a month I began setting it aside and eventually went back to reading print books. Over the last six months I haven't used it except a couple of times to buy books that were released only in e-book form.
Ms. Casavant's piece makes me wonder if the dissatisfaction I've felt with reading books on the e-reader could be due to me skimming instead of reading them as focused as I would be on a print book. I thought I simply didn't like reading on the e-reader because of the lighted screen in my face, but maybe it's my brain automatically shifting into that online shallow/multi-tasking mode. So tomorrow I'm going to try to read a new book on the e-reader but do it deliberately slowly, in the same way I would a print book. Maybe if I focus on the words instead of how they're being delivered to my brain, I might get back my focus.
Your turn: have you noticed that you read differently when you use an e-reader versus print? Is it possible that you might be skimming more than deeply reading, or is there no noticeable difference for you? Let us know what you think in comments.