Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reading: The defense against our age of distraction

Two recent features on the radio started me thinking about the power of reading. In one, a Michigan State University professor began research on distractability. In the other an author in an interview for his new book spoke about how in our modern age it really is difficult to get and keep people's attention.

Both of these stories made me think about iPads and the internet and Twitter and Facebook and the way our modern world affords people the opportunity to superficially scan hundreds of articles and ideas a day. It made me ask again the question are we capable of focusing in our hyper-connected world?

The answer, from both of these stories, is yes.

The researcher found that the whole brain becomes involved when one engages in close reading. Parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch become activated when a person becomes engaged in the act of reading. It is as if a person "physically places" themselves in the story.

The author, who also developed a smartphone application, talked about how people often move from website to website and app to app. Capturing a reader's attention and engaging them has increasingly become more difficult.

But reading can grab people.

Because reading has the potential to engage readers in deep and meaningful thought we need to help those that we teach learn not just the act of reading but give them tools to reflect on their reading. Developing the skills to engage in reading can and should help our students learn the skills of engagement in other areas of their life as well.

Reading, it appears, is one of the tools that we have to push back against the tide of superficiality and distractability that threatens to engulf our world. A true gift in our modern world.

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