Does Technology Keep Us From Reading Well?

An article in today’s New York Times discusses the influence of technology on how we read today (Yes, People Still Read but Now It’s Social).

According to columnist Steven Johnson, authors like Nicholas Carr (and I’m sure many others) fear that we have less ability to focus than we used to have, and are therefore poorer readers.  Technology means multi-tasking, which means distraction.  An example of this distraction is a Kindle feature called “popular highlights”.  This feature highlights text in the book you are reading where that text has been highlighted by numerous other readers.  Personally, I don’t like this feature.  I DO find it distracting, and I don’t find it interesting to know what other readers have highlighted.  But I can turn it off.

I do think that in my daily life, I have less attention span than I used to, and I think computer, TV and radio technologies all contribute to that.  But I don’t think that applies to the Kindle.  I read better with my Kindle than with a paper book, because I can highlight text, make notes, look up words, and search text when I’ve forgotten something.  These features are not distractions for me, they are enhancements.

Like me, Johnson doesn’t completely buy into the idea that technology is weakening our ability to read.  He makes a few other interesting points:  first, that we are probably reading and writing MORE because of technology (blogs, Amazon, e-readers, etc.) than we did “in the heyday of television.”

Second, while features like “popular highlights” are distracting, they also connect readers to each other. Same with book blogs and online reading networks like  And, the article suggests, we are better readers when we share and discuss what we’re reading, rather than just sitting in a room quietly and concentrating.  Johnson says “One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.”  So while some aspects of reading have suffered, others have improved – and maybe all of that is for the better.

What do you think?

  1 comment for “Does Technology Keep Us From Reading Well?

  1. June 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    I think it’s harder to just sit down and read book with so many other things (internet, TV, video games) vying for attention but as you pointed out, I don’t actually think that means people are reading less when you consider all of the reading people do online.

    I’m warming up to the idea of the Kindle. At first I wasn’t too into the idea because I couldn’t imagine getting rid of my books. But now the more I hear about the Kindle and all of its features the more I’m jumping on that band wagon. Being able to do a search of the text is especially appealing. I wish I had that for college classes!

    There’s an interesting article from The New Yorker about e-readers

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