THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
A piece of digital prose in which Your Humble Reporter bites the hand that feeds him by suggesting you walk away from your computer screen.
Go read a book. Right now.
Of course, Your Humble Reporter would like you to stick around and read this brief bit of prose, and thanks you if you’re still here. But seriously, go read a book.
A previous piece in this space reported Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Nonnan’s address at Southern Methodist University last month. She spoke about women in the political system, but she began by way of reiterating something she’d said to a group of students earlier in the day.
She told them to read books:
“‘Read books to learn how to think,’” Noonan said. “‘Read them to learn how to reflect and ponder. Read them to learn what people thought before you. Read them to calm your mind. Read books to deepen and develop your normal pathways. Make them broader and deeper. Read books to become literate… Read books because if your generation does not, books will disappear, which would be a cultural catastrophe for your country.’”
Noonan said the screen makes the brain “jittery,” and the science backs up her unscientific description. There’s been a blizzard of research arguing that paper is superior to the screen. Naomi Barron wrote about it in The New Republic. Researchers Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer, writing (ironically) on the website The Conversation, concluded that while students believed they comprehended more by reading digitally, their results found the opposite was true. The Guardian printed a summary of current research, including a study finding that not only reading on paper but also writing on paper is better for your brain.
Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, wrote a piece in the July/August 2008 issue of The Atlantic titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in which he asserts that the Internet is rewiring our brains. He quoted Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University: “We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.”
A new generation has not been rewired, but are venturing into the world hardwired to a digital universe. They find reading and acquiring new reading material is made easier by the same technology that has simplified everything from turning on the lights to vacuuming the carpet. And for those who don’t want to read even a digitized book, it is apparently possible to have Alexa read to you.
With or without the science to back her up, Noonan is right. Books are reflective and calming. They develop your thought processes in a unique way. One becomes more literate and, by extension, a finer intellect. Plus, it just feels good to hold a book.
So, while it may be counterproductive advice from an online composer, walk away from your screen, go to the library and pick up a book. As soon as you can.