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Research on Skim Reading. Digital Age Impairs Critical Thinking.

Date published: | Lisa Barlow

Student boy reading a book with his headphone on his head, lying in bed.

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The digital world has brought us new extraordinary capacities, but the accompanying excitement must be treated with caution. The humankind differs from other species by its ability to think critically and this is exactly what our essay will be about. According to the most recent studies, it appears that this cognitive feature of the human being is getting impaired because of the excessive digital screen use.

Depending on which information medium we use on a daily basis, our comprehension abilities may vary greatly.

Our species acquired literacy thousands of years ago, and we can witness today how immensely our present reading brain has evolved since then. We can decode a huge variety of incredibly complex notions while being able to understand the feelings of another person and appreciate the beauty of the surrounding world.

Today, we face a problem, which is dangerous to society. The Brain’s usual ability to read gets changed not in the most efficient way and the implications of this tendency are those that are very unlikely to facilitate and sustain a good society.

There was a series of studies conducted with the aim to find out how the manner of reading has changed in the time of the fast-paced technological development in our digital age. Skimming appeared to be the new trend of how to absorb the abundance of information that comes from a multitude of sources.

Skimming is a strategy of the speed-reading technique, which implies a quick reading of the text in order to grasp the general idea in the shortest period of time possible. This reading method especially flourishes now, in the era of the reign of digital devices. Getting the essence from the text without reading all the words is indeed an effective way to receive information.

The problem is that the prevalence of screen reading makes deep reading processes diminish. The risk of not comprehending of what the real message becomes too high since the information perceived might be superficial.

Our intellectual processes such as reasoning, perspective-taking, insight, empathy, critical thinking are important for both individual and society. They are the processes that happen during deep reading, which is now becoming not so common due to the use of digital-based modes of receiving information.

Neuroscientists have a saying, which states “either use it or lose it”. When a certain skill is used, it sustains and develops. If the skill is not regularly applied and trained, it becomes extinct with time.

Because of the excessive use of digital media, the brain’s ability to read deteriorates subtly but quite rapidly. From younger children to expert adults, the majority of those who use various digital devices find it hard to comprehend complex texts, which require critical analysis. Many students at colleges find it hard to visit classic literature lessons simply because they do not have enough patience to read demanding texts.

In one of the studies, researchers investigated how digital screen use influenced reading comprehension of college students. The same material was presented to two groups in different mediums. One group was supposed to work on the text by means of Kindle while the second group read the material in paperback. The results have shown that those students who read the text on print had a higher level of comprehension than those who used digital devices. In particular, the ability to recollect the plot in correct chronological order and sequence of detailing was superior when the information was received in the printed version of the studying material.

Deep reading processes require the allocation of certain time for the brain to grasp the complexity and create thoughts. It is almost impossible to perceive beauty when skimming the text. Empathy is also getting hard to evolve when a reader uses this strategy on a regular basis.

It looks like these days technological innovations develop faster than our brain can digest and adjust in order to function accordingly. Now, we need to learn how to form our thoughts effectively regardless of whether we use the digital device or traditional medium. It is a great challenge, but we must work out how to deal with it if we want to sustain a good society.