Monday, August 16, 2010

Danny Bloom and the perils of "screening"

Inspired by Nicholas Carr's book "The Shallows," and more especially by the varied reactions to Nicholas Carr's ideas, I previously posted 3 articles on the subject of how electronic media are affecting our thinking and reading. I'm no expert on this subject, except that I read a lot both online and offline. The posts were a review of Carr, some thoughts on our shifting perception of knowledge and expertise, and some reflection on the concept of deep reading.

Since those posts, a gentleman named Danny Bloom has been pestering me to blog about him. I have a readership of about a dozen very smart and curious friends on a very good day, but for some reason Danny has been very insistent that I mention him. So here it is. Danny says he is a journalist in Taiwan and he has been contacting all sorts of people and urging them to write about the issue of reading on paper vs. reading on electronic screens (he coins the term "screening"). He feels that doing brain scans of people while they are reading will turn up important differences.

Danny has been pushing hard for me to write about this and sending me a lot of the variations of the same thing over and over again urging that screens are different from paper. Ok, I think it's true, and I prefer paper for various reasons for serious reading, but I'm not sure that this is all discernable readily at the neural level. I think much is cognitive and psychological. And it is hard to tell how much is habit and preference and how much is intrinsic difference in how we are forced to process different kinds of stimuli and use our attention differently. I expect it's a little of each.

I hope this satisfies my obligation to Danny to write about his concern. I consider this an interesting question but I'm not nearly as excited about it as Danny is, and my concerns are more general than just the nature of screens vs. paper. Especially since the resolution and shading of of screens has drastically improved and will continue to do so.