Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolfe believes that the human brain has changed in response to to the way that information is presented online, and the changes aren’t entirely positive. Wolfe presents her initial problems enjoy Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game as a consequence of these brain changes.
I’m not so sure, myself. I wonder if she has considered that her reading tastes may have changed for other reasons, or maybe that The Glass Bead Game just isn’t her cup of tea? I read a ton of Herman Hesse in high school and college, but haven’t visited his work in a couple of decades. I’m not sure I’d enjoy any of it now, but I don’t believe the internet is to blame. Then again, I guess it might make a convenient excuse for why I can’t get through Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or James Joyce’s Ulysses in spite of numerous attempts to do so.
According to Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the study of reading, the superficial manner in which we read material online is making it difficult for us understand works that require more than a momentary commitment to comprehend them.
The author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain told the Washington Post that she worries “that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing.”
“The brain is plastic its whole life span,” Wolf said, “the brain is constantly adapting.” And it is currently “adapting” to an online environment that favors the acquisition of information at the quickest possible speed.
She even claimed to be a victim of this new mode of “reading” herself, telling the Post about a recent evening in which she attempted to read Hermann Hesse’s long, modernist novel The Glass Bead Game.
“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
“I wanted to enjoy this form of reading again,” Wolf continued. “When I found myself [able to do so], it was like I recovered. I found my ability again to slow down, savor and think.”