Katherine Hayles – How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine

Comp-Book86542544In her article “How We Read Now: Close, Hyper, Machine” N. Katherine Hayles highlights that in the last twenty years the reading of print has declined significantly. In the video clip below the perceived crisis is reflected in the responses made by students when asked if they still read books:

The students in the video reflect the fast-paced, digital world we are living in, where people want to gather as much information as possible in as little time as possible and it is because of this that there is also a perceived fear that close reading of text has been replaced by hyperreading. Hyperreadng, defined by James Sosnoski in 1999 as “reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading” where, Sonoski believes, readers are moving away from and becoming distanced from the text by filtering key words and skimming through the majority of the content.

In the digital environment, Hayles highlights, hyperreading has become essential and filtering systems and Google searches have become just as much a part of a scholar’s toolkit as hyperreading itself. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, however, 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 draws attention away from the article or piece of text, 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 all increasing cognitive load.

In contrast, “with linear reading cognitive mode is at a minimum and the transfer to long term memory happens more efficiently”. Also, the vast amount of material available to be read on the web results in skim reading due to the fact that there is just too much to get through and thus, close attention to any one text becomes 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. However, Hayles suggests that in a contemporary environment privilege should not be given to one form of reading over another and that close reading, hyperreading and machine reading all relate to one another and it is important that they are used together by scholars as a tool-kit, a repertoire of reading strategies.