Thomas Ramey Watson

Why Reading On A Screen Is Bad For Critical Thinking

A related distinction is between what’s called deep reading (that time-consuming process involving reasoning skills and reflection) and hyper reading (a term developed in the late 1990s). In How We Think, Katherine Hayles defines hyper reading as “a strategic response to an information-intensive environment, aiming to conserve attention by quickly identifying relevant information, so that only relatively few portions of a given text are actually read.” Not surprisingly, hyper reading is what young people (and, increasingly, many of the rest of us) do when we read onscreen. We make quick judgments, trusting intuition as to what’s relevant to read, rather than working — and thinking — our way through.

Deep reading takes time, patience, and effort. In distinguishing between fast (System 1) and slow (System 2) thinking, Kahneman reminds us that even when System 2 might be called for, we humans tend to get lazy and defer to the rapid, instinctual judgments of System 1. When we read online, the deck is stacked again System 2 thinking, deep reading, and critical thinking.

Sure, those with ironclad discipline can read, think, and analyze regardless of the reading medium. For the rest of us mortals – like over 90% of the college students I surveyed — concentration and digital screens don’t generally mix. If as parents and teachers we are serious about developing critical thinking in our progeny and students, we need to ask ourselves whether those handy digital devices are helps or hindrances.



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