Go read a book: How screens are negatively rewiring the brain


Technology is a wondrous thing. From the machines and vaccinations that keep people alive and healthy in hospitals to the computers that keep people informed and entertained, one could argue that today’s society would not exist without technology.

As wondrous as it may be, though, technology is affecting American youth in more ways than we can see on the surface, such as changing the way we think.

Think back: When is the last time you saw children play pretend games or read a book instead of playing “Angry Birds” or other mobile games?

It is impossible to ignore the connection that today’s youth has with technology. Some might call it an affinity for technology; others call it a dependency.

Students of every sort carry their phones in their pockets almost every minute of the day, inseparable from the devices which connect them to one another. With the information superhighway constantly at our fingertips, arguments between friends can be resolved within moments of the dispute. Social media allows for students to connect outside of face-to-face contact, but as a result, social skills erode with the overuse of social media.

What can you do to combat this change in brain wiring?

Go read a book on paper.

According to psychology doctor James Taylor of Psychology Today, technology conditions the brain to take in information differently when reading a screen than just reading paper. Reading paper encourages the brain to be focused and imaginative. Reading screens, however, encourages the brain to scan and process information rapidly.

Michael Rich, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston, believes that screens are negatively rewiring children’s brains.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” Rich states. “The worry is that we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

So what, exactly, does this mean?

Think of it this way: reading a book is like riding a bike through a park, and reading a screen is like riding a motorcycle on a street. While the general concept of steering and balancing is the same for the two media of travel, the pace of a bike in a park allows the rider to look around and enjoy the world around them. The pace of the motorcycle, however, requires the reader to take in, analyze and act on information much faster than the bike. On the motorcycle, the rider doesn’t have the time to reflect on this information.

This change in the way information is processed has an effect on the attention span of the brain. Reading screens shortens your attention span, while reading paper lengthens it.

Start doing your brain some favors. Next time you find yourself bored on social media, go open a book and read.