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Admit it, you’re a skimmer. It’s OK, we are too. How else are you going to keep up with the brutal pace of the webosphere?
As long as there have been bang-head-on-desk boring textbooks and “informational” pamphlets, there has been skim reading. But now, thanks to the changing nature of media and content, people are even more conditioned to absorb whatever they can quickly and then move along. Skimming is the new reading, says Ziming Liu, a professor of library and information science at San Jose State University.
So, we’re all speed readers now? Not exactly. Reading is a skill that adapts and develops depending on how it’s used. As skimming becomes more habit than occasional tool, we start missing out on the finer details that deliver nuance, detail and true insight. When the brain is in skim mode, a collection of new research indicates, it hinders empathy and cripples our ability to grasp complexity, perceive beauty and think critically.
And it’s not just what you’re reading, but how that can determine the level of understanding. A Norwegian study where two groups of students read the same text on an e-reader and in print found the ones who read the paper version had superior comprehension and recall.
Should I be concerned? Probably. Society needs a citizenry that can “read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts,” from thick tomes like War and Peace to legal contracts and purposefully confusing public referendums, Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA, argues in The Guardian.
“The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.”