What are you reading and how are you reading it?

Increasingly, we are reading commentary that point to the negative effects of technology use on our ability to read deeply and reflectively, and on our ability to maintain sustained periods of concentration. Nicholas Carr has just presented a keynote at AASL on this topic. Carr authored The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains in 2010, and also wrote, Is Google making us stupid?, published in Atlantic magazine. In an interview with School Library Journal, Carr assertsWe’re now in the midst of a fundamental shift in our intellectual technologies, as we move rapidly away from the printed page as the essential means of transmitting knowledge and toward the network-connected computer screen,” Carr explains. “Whereas the printed page, by its very nature, encouraged attentive, undistracted, linear thought, the computer screen encourages the division of attention, distraction, and multitasking.

In an article posted in the Mail Online on 24 October, we are told that many ‘tech honchos’ choose to send their children to a private school in the Silicone Valley in which the classrooms are served by chalk boards and shelves of encyclopedias. Google executive, Alan Eagle, is quoted as saying ‘I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school’. The principle is that, instead of learning to sync their online apps with their computer, they are allowing their bodies to sync with their brains.

In the newly published eBook, School libraries: What now, what’s next, what’s yet to come, chapter five is devoted to the subject of reading, and I was intrigued to read Alida Hanson’s Reading 2.0: Deep dark secrets, and found that we have much in common.

Had you asked me, even three years ago, would I ever turn to reading online, on an eReader or in any other digital format, I might have laughed you from the room. I was a dyed-in-the-wool lover of things paper, and couldn’t see past the end of my nose as far as any other reading medium was concerned. Now, though? I do almost all of my reading online – I read blog posts, news, Twitter feeds, Scoop.it, email and almost all of my professional reading online. I have downloaded the Kindle app for my laptop, and I’m intending to order a Kindle later this month.

More interestingly than any of that, though, is the way in which my attention is divided, constantly pushed and pulled, and the effort that is required of me to focus and read deeply. I struggle to read a novel now unless I am having ‘real’ down time, and I put that down to the sheer volume of reading that I do in any given day, online.

My patterns of skimming have also changed. I find myself reading the title, skimming the introduction, going to the end of the article to read the summary, and then floating back upwards, skimming as I go – if my interest is really piqued at that stage, I will usually mark, download, or save the article to read in full later.

Today I stumbled across findings.com, a new Twitter-style tool that aims to allow readers to share quotes from the books they are reading, and will allow us to monitor which books are ‘trending’. So much for the bookmark, a recommended reading list, and a surreptitious scribble in the margin!

So what are you reading, and how are you reading it? And if you, too, are finding that your habits of reading are rapidly changing, what is the implication for the way we think about and promote reading in our communities? What needs to change, and where do we start? What will our book clubs look like – will they be online, or at least, will the online forum be an optional extra? Should we be sharing online reads in online forums, creating bookclubs in blog or website form, which link directly to the reading of choice?

How have your reading habits changed, or are you still addicted to the smell of the printing press? Do you need to deal with your addiction, or just find the next fix?

(You might be interested to know that on my floor of the library, from 16 people who regularly work in the space, six now have tablets of one kind or another. I will make seven at the end of this month. When I started 11 months ago, they numbered two. Does that count as a significant shift?)

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3 Responses to What are you reading and how are you reading it?

  1. Bookbrainz says:

    To keep my enthusiasm brief; trends are for a mixture of reading ‘devices.’ Computer screens work for relatively small articles or longer texts in chunks. Tablets are good for that too and for combining text, visual, communications and for portability. Dedicated E-readers are almost as good as books for concentrated reading and bookmarking and searching [if you bought the right model.] Much better when you are travelling or commuting. Books are definitely more readable and easier on the eyes , except when too heavy or large or their spines are too stiff – and searchability is a little easier. I find I use all of them – mostly for the above reasons. A helpful trend has emerged – an e-book released to the market ahead of or at the same time as the text. It gives advance readers like reviewers and librarians a chance to preview and decide whether to recommend a book to others through our various channels or buy more copies after paying a reduced price.
    As for how this affects students of all ages – research is needed but noone is suggesting we learn to read on electronic devices [support is often given that way however.] Teens don’t seem to be overwhelmingly in favour of e-readers for study either. Tertiary students seem to have made almost a total adaptation probably because academic and library staff have made it their business to provide the very best resources available.

    • All interesting stuff, Ange – I’m fascinated by how much our habits are changing, and how quickly. Thinking about things like how much time teens spend of FB and other social media, and the reading and writing that goes on there, too. My son is 20 and gets all his news online, doesn’t touch the newspaper, but is very will informed. Just one example.

  2. Bookbrainz says:

    Yes, I hesitated to use my son as an example because he is doing a degree in computer science, languages and codes – so he is going to be glued to his netbook [and occasionally a desktop] anyway. But yes, he communicates with everyone that way, has very few textbooks, submits assignments that way – mostly. It wouldn’t occur to him to use a book unless there was absolutely no other way of getting info – and yes I am constantly surprised at what news and IT innovations/news he has picked up on.

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