Last week I attended the Burnett Seminar at UNC, which featured Dr. Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University. Her keynote was titled “The Mystery, Challenges and Beauty of Dyslexia: Insights from the Reading Brain."
The final slides of her 104-slide presentation were particularly provocative to me. I'll include my best hurried transcription:
"Every medium has its costs and weaknesses; every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others. . . . the Internet may develop impressive visual intelligence; the cost seems to be to deep processing: mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination and reflection."
"The real question is whether the affordances of reading on screen lead us to a new normal, one in which length and complexity . . . and memory and especially concentration are proving more challenging."
"Will so much information reduce our capacity to process it? Will triaging this glut lead to narrowing ourselves to silos of information that require less processing and conform to what we already thought?"
"Humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as they will to get a meal or a mate."
"Never before in history have the decisions of a handful of designers (mostly men, white, living in San Francisco, aged 25-35) working at three companies" --Google, Apple, and Facebook -- "had so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention. . . . We should feel an enormous responsibility to get this right."
"Will changes in attention and the expectation for constant, immediate information from external platforms of knowledge threaten the formation of deep reading in young digital readers?"
"Ensuring the formation and use of deep reading is our best inoculation against their vulnerability (and ours) to false information and demagoguery."