Neuroscientist Claims Internet Has Ruined The Way We Read

"No, it's fine. Enjoy reading "Top Ten Celebrity Liposuction Disasters. I'll just stay here and silently judge you."PIC: Dutch National Archives (CC)

“No, it’s fine. Enjoy reading “Top Ten Celebrity Liposuction Disasters. I’ll just stay here and silently judge you.”PIC: Dutch National Archives (CC)

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.


Via Raw Story:

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.”

Read the rest at Raw Story

10 Comments on "Neuroscientist Claims Internet Has Ruined The Way We Read"

  1. Dread Raider | Apr 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm |

    I like how it is the internet and our desire for consumption of relevant information that is to blame.
    If you practice a skill you get better at it, if you stop practicing a skill, it’s proficiency will fade.
    Quickly let us point the blame to something besides our selves for our own short comings and lack of discipline.

    • If you practice a skill you get better at it, if you stop practicing a skill, it’s proficiency will fade.


      rumination (either definition)

      If I can make it through 2/3 of the epic rant towards the end of Atlas Shrugged, I’m pretty sure duh interwebz hasn’t destroyed my brain just yet…

  2. I could never get through Pynchon either. I tried and tired, cuz you know, he’s important. Not happening. Same for Dostoyevsky and The Brothers Karamazov.
    Funny enough, I started and could not get through The Glass Bead Game either. That was years before I even knew what the internet was.
    Had no such problems going through Tom Campbell’s MBT trilogy recently. This is not what anyone would call light reading. I had to go slow, takes notes, highlight key passages, write comments in the margins, and really think about what I was reading. No problem.

    • Craig Bickford | Apr 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm |

      Yeah I tried to read GR once, and I also have a massive copy of Mason Dixon hanging around somewhere as well. You know, just in case someone breaks into my house I can club them to death one of those two volumes.

      • This got me thinking about all the books I tried to read but could never manage to get through. Gravity’s Rainbow is on there for sure.

        • emperorreagan | Apr 7, 2014 at 10:54 pm |

          When my wife and I combined libraries, she gave that one away. She refuses to have any of Pynchon’s books in the house after reading his stuff for classes in college. Spares me having it stare out at me from the shelf and taunting me for giving up after 100 pages.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Apr 7, 2014 at 6:49 pm |

    back in the daze
    I tried to accertain the % of serious readers
    certainly not more than 2% I conjecture
    maybe another 8% read books regularly
    the rest are functionally literate
    low to highbrow, road signs to the New York Times
    on the other hand
    over 20 years ago I began to transition
    from print to audio
    which greatly enhances the works of Shakespeare, Joyce & Feynman
    to name a few
    if anything
    the internet exposes the functionally literate
    to more literate options

    PS: I think Magister Ludi is supposed to be for college
    while still enthralled with the pursuit of knowledge
    for the sake of pleasure

  4. pacificwaters | Apr 8, 2014 at 12:30 am |

    Your personal anecdotes don’t obviate her premise. I personally find the same phenomena that she reports. I find myself skimming and looking for the main poitns rather reading in depth thus missing pertinet information. It may be similar to what has happened to film in the past few decades. As commercial and music video directors took the helm in many feature films the edits came closer and closer and the shots shorter and shorter. I’ve also noticed the sound design has changed. Dialogue has taken a back seat to sound effects and musical score. It’s the same as watching a milleniums attempting to count change at a register, They just can’t do it.

  5. pacificwaters | Apr 8, 2014 at 12:37 am |

    By the way, I found GBG quite the enjoyable read in college. I do believe though it was part and parcel of the times just as Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, or Henry Miller were, although I find myself returning to “Hieronymous Bosch and the Oranges of Big Sur” time and time again. I still have my original copy I bought at the Henry Miller Museum. In fact I find myself rereading “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” though I do find it a bit sappy now but I think that it is because of an increased societal cynicism that I share.

  6. thisbliss | Apr 8, 2014 at 2:49 pm |

    I persevered through the glass bead game only a few years ago. I felt the same way. Tbh I got very little from the first part and felt it was unnecessarily long but the short couple stories at the end were full on rad

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