Reading this article online has some particular benefits– one being the ease with which I discovered this article (through my NYTimes notification service where I track articles with the topic headings “books” and “libraries”). The varied and often inciteful commentary that online readers provide is another benefit to this interactive service. But perhaps most beneficial is that this article draws attention to the published books and reports that explore the topic in depth, one of which, Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf, I am reading right now.
Quotes from the book:
“Will the split-second immediacy of information gained from a search engine and the sheer volume of what is available derail the slower, more deliberative processes that deepen our understanding of complex concepts, of another’s inner thought processes, and of our own consciousness?”
“The generative capacity of reading parallels the fundamental plasticity in the circuit wiring of our brains: both permit us to go beyond the particulars to the given. The rich associations, inferences, and insights emerging from this capacity allow, and indeed invite, us to reach beyond the specific content of what we read to form new thoughts. In this sense reading both reflects and reenacts the brain’s capacity for cognitive breakthroughs.”
“In the transmission of knowledge the children and teachers of the future should not be faced with a choice between books and screens, between newspapers and capsuled versions of the news on the Internet, or between print and other media. Our transition generation has an opportunity, if we seize it, to pause and use our most reflective capacities, to use everything at our disposal to prepare for the formation of what will come next. The analytical, inferential, perspective-taking, reading brain with all its capacity for human consciousness, and the nimble, multifunctional, multimodal, information-integrative capacities of a digital mind-set do not need to inhabit exclusive realms.”
This quote from Menander (Greek dramatist, 4th cent. B.C.) reflects the growing understanding of the value of reading a hundred years after Socrates, who was concerned about the devaluation of the oral tradition in the face of the development of writing and reading skills:
“Those who can read see twice as well.”
In her book, Maryanne Wolf points out that while Socrates might have overstated his case, there is some truth to his concern about the need for the brain to develop properly. Reading changes the brain, and the best type of reading conditions our brains to be able to create new thoughts. A reader’s brain has the capacity to have thoughts deeper than those that came before.