Your brain is a complicated machine. The more neuroscientists discover about the way we learn and approach the world, courtesy of this endlessly fascinating “gray matter,” the more likely we are to view cognition in terms of how it may truly impact our daily lives.
In a recent article from PRI (Public Radio International), Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren’t the Same Thing, digital content editor T.J. Raphael reports that digital reading has permeated our lives to the extent that it has actually changed the way we read print. You may find yourself feeling distracted, with your eyes darting around the page and your mind unable to concentrate, even if you have been able to do so in the past.
According to neuroscientists, you use different parts of your brain when you read a screen than you do when reading paper. Like so many other functions of the brain, like vocabulary and language (I can’t be the only one who has lost almost all of high school German), reading on paper is a use-it-or-lose-it skill. In fact, the more you read on a screen, the more you start to read other materials as if you were reading a screen.
It would be alarmist to suggest that the deep reading many of us still do on paper—immersing yourself in a novel, for example, or even complicated documents like a mortgage agreement—is in danger of extinction. Manoush Zomorodi, host of WYNC’s New Tech City, doesn’t suggest, as some might, that we are becoming stupider or poorer readers overall. It’s closer to the truth to say that excess stimulation is disrupting our ability to deep-read.
What is to be done? How can we stem the loss of this critical skill, important for everything from professional development and career advancement to reading for pleasure and fully understanding your taxes?
According to the article, the best advice is to do some deep reading every day. Flex that muscle in your brain to keep it in shape, for all the times in life when you need to completely understand new information and can’t be distracted by the ads in the sidebar and the ping! of your inbox.
For your association members, this deep reading of print might as well be content from your annual meeting. It would be a good choice, after all; this is important information, worthy of the more careful, deliberate attention most people give to printed materials. Add this to the growing list of reasons to continue to print your program or proceedings.
In the future, we may see that this bi-literate brain, which uses one method and area for reading on a screen and a different method and area for reading print, as an asset. Its ability to differentiate between the skimmable, fact-seeking online tidbit from the deep-dive-worthy printed piece could be valuable. It will take some conscious practice on our part, though, which can begin with your association content.