Turns out reading on screens does affect your brain, but not in the way you might think. I find I can now read magazines articles and blog posts on my phone, but can’t do sustained narratives. Fits the research below. That said, my son who is 17 is reading my novel in progress as the chapters are written and has so far read 360+ pages on his phone. Boggles my mind. Generational thing? I would guess. Ironically, this is the kid who is also writing his own novel at the same time, but is doing it long hand in a notebook. These Gen Z types are weird, man.
As it turns out, the research so far suggests that although the prevalence of screens has yet to “rot our brains” or turn us into zombies, this development has changed the way we read. Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf has written extensively about how the reading brain is changing in the digital age. In a 2018 interview for The Verge, she explained that the literacy circuits in our brains have a high degree of plasticity, meaning our reading processes—the way our brains interact with written material—are constantly shaped by the kind of reading we do on a daily basis. In our modern world, this plasticity is both good and bad. On the one hand, our brains need to be adaptable enough to keep up with the times and sift through the vast amounts of information available to us through the internet. But at the same time, this rapid adaptation to screens seems to be weakening other reading skills and processes: namely, what Wolf refers to as “deep learning” and “cognitive patience.” She claims that digital reading teaches our brains to skim and that if we don’t balance this skimming with enough deep, focused reading—the kind we’re more inclined to do with printed texts—we begin to lose our ability to read critically and empathetically.