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Highlights: Is Google Making Us Stupid

In general, online reading has had a negative impact on people’s cognition. Concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates were all much lower while reading online than offline.

  • Reading on the internet presents many advantages: enhanced user experience, efficiency, increased reading capacity, flexibility, cost effectiveness, and comprehension.
  • It also presents disadvantages: negative impact on short- and long-term memory, lack of concentration, and lack of comprehension.
  • Hyperlinks are a double-edged sword: they allow the user to go deeper into the subject but can lead to distraction.
  • People prefer to read longer documents, or those that require annotation, on paper as opposed to online.
  • Reading online may have changed readers’ behaviour—increased skimming/scanning, hopping to different sources, etc.
    • Can thus detract from the ability to read deeply, or from prolonged engagement with reading.
  • Information is processed and stored in three stages
    • Sensory memory translated the initial stimulus into something comprehensible. The process takes only a few seconds. If incomprehensible, the stimulus is discarded. If comprehensible, the information moves to the short term, or working, memory. After about ten minutes, it is transferred to the long term memory.
    • There are two major aspects of retaining information in the short term memory: organisation and repetition. If the information is not properly coded and organised, rehearsed or repeated, it gets forgotten. Otherwise it passes into long term memory.
    • The long term memory has an unlimited capacity and holds information indefinitely.
  • ‘Chunking’ of information is a technique for transferring information to the long term memory
  • When skimming or speed reading, content gets skipped and the short term memory does not absorb a complete understanding of what is being read.
  • Typically, most online reading is done at work and most offline reading done at home.
  • Hyperlinks affect the typical linear reading pattern when reading online.
  • Multitasking is more frequent during online reading
  • The continuous skimming and fragmented nature of online reading affected the discipline of reading.

References

Hooper, Val. ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid? The Impact of the Internet on Reading Behaviour’, 2014. https://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1044&context=bled2014.