In her article “How We Read Now: Close, Hyper, Machine” N. Katherine Hayles highlights how, in the last twenty years, reading of print has declined significantly. In the video clip below entitled “Do You Still Read Books: Students Respond”, the perceived crisis is revealed in the answers given by students when asked whether or not they still read printed material:
The students in the video embody the fast-paced, digital world that we are now living in, where people want to gather as much information as possible in as little time as possible. “I want it updated now,” one student stated, highlighting the fact that our thirst for knowledge cannot be satisfied by merely reading a book. Another student responded by saying “I just Google the stuff….it’s an easy, convenient and… more time-saving approach.” With attitudes such as those revealed in the video it is no wonder why scholars argue that close reading of texts has been replaced by hyperreading.
Hyperreadng is defined by James Sosnoski as “reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading” where, Sosnoski believes that readers are moving away from and becoming distanced from the text by filtering key words and skimming through the majority of the content (Sosnoski, 1999: 165). In the digital environment however Hayles highlights that hyperreading has become essential. She states that filtering systems and Google searches have become significant elements in a scholar’s toolkit (Hayles, 2010).
Nicholas Carr however, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, fears that hyperreading results in changes in brain function and subsequently leads to sustained concentration becoming more challenging. Reading from a web-page differs greatly from print and results in a complete re-wiring of the brain due to the fact that concentration is drawn away from the linear flow of the text. An extensive array of hyperlinks attract the reader’s attention and they are subsequently enticed away from the article or piece of text that they were initially reading ; the reader’s eye begins to wander and they essentially end up forgetting about the task at hand (Carr, 2010).
Carr also argues that tweeting and other short pieces of text encourage distracted forms of reading and habits develop such as persistent clicking and navigating from one thing to another. This kind of activity continues until we find ourselves lost on the web amidst an array of links and various webpages that have no relevance to what we were initially doing. All of this activity, he argues, increases cognitive load and prevents the reader from focusing solely on any one piece of text for a considerable length of time. In contrast however cognitive load is at a minimum when texts are read in a linear manner and in this case the transfer of information to long-term memory is more efficient (Carr, 2010).
It is due to the vast amount of material available to read on the web that skim-reading occurs. The fact is that there is just too much information to get through and thus, close attention to any one text becomes almost impossible for a considerable length of time. Hayles points out that as environments become more information intensive it is no wonder why hyperattention and its associated hyperreading is increasing while deep attention and close reading are on the decline (Hayles, 2010).
In the video above one student also stated that she believes “people will regret changing from print to digital”. However, I disagree with this. I believe rather than becoming more distanced from the text, hyperreading allows us to understand a text more in-depth by giving us the ability to focus on specific terms, keywords and areas of the text that are of particular relevance to a person’s research. Hypperreading allows us to engage with the text in a more efficient way without having to repeatedly re-read the text closely as a whole, a task which I deem to be unnecessarily time-consuming.
Hayles suggests that in a contemporary environment privilege should not be given to one form of reading over another. She states that close reading, hyperreading and even machine reading all relate to one another and it is important that they are used together by scholars to help them to truly understand the text by engaging with it in various ways. All three – close reading, hyperreading and machine reading- should be combined as a repertoire of reading strategies, to bring scholars closer to the text and to achieve an enhanced understanding of what is truly being said (Hayles, 2010).
Carr, N. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: Norton 2010. Print.
Hayles, N. K. “How We Read Now: Close, Hyper, Machine”. ADE Bulletin, Number 150, 2010. Web. 15 December 2012.