Home / Notes / Klein, This is Your Brain on Deep Reading

Klein, This is Your Brain on Deep Reading

Notes from Exra Klein’s interview with Maryanne Wolf


  • How we read has changed dramatically in a few short years. That means our minds have changed too, at stunning speed.
  • Literacy has had remarkable results on humankind, changing us and our societies. The shift to reading digital information has been a seismic one, and we don’t know how it will turn out to affect us.
  • ‘Deep reading’ is when we go to another ‘level’ of participating in the text; where we take on another perspective and reading in a whole different way. This is a totally different form of reading then when we are reading for information.
  • Plasticity in the mind means the way we read will be reflecting the affordances of the medium—how we read on a medium changes what we comprehend.
  • Skimming is a defense mechanism that is very useful to handle a lot of information.
  • The heart of reading is the place where we go beyond the wisdom of the author to discover our own.
  • Aristotle said there were three lives to a good society: the first is of productivity and knowledge and accrual of information. The second is of leaisure and entertainment. The third is the life of reflection, comtemplation.
  • The digital age has increased information but reduced judgement.

Information was never enough; it’s what we did with it, what we thought about it, the connections we made with it. We have degraded those capacities at a wide scale, even as we’ve increased connectivity and quantity of what we can know.

  • The act of reading has become degraded because of the bombardment of information, because of the affordances of the particular medium, and because we have all become cognitively impatient.
  • When reading online, readers are just trying to get to the end of the piece. The comprehension is lost when they are not going back and forth between lines.
  • The physicality of a book makes it easier to go backwards and forwards more often - there is a spacial aspect which is lost on digital media.
  • Of course, digital has advantages. It is important, however, not to be ignorant about what we are disrupting or diminishing—preserve as we expand.
  • Some of the value in a book is in the time a reader spends within the book—it is more than just the knowledge being conveyed.
  • Maryanne Wolf recommends ‘bookending’ your day: 20 minutes of philosophical/theological/spiritual at the start of the day which will centre you. Slow your thinking down. Clearing out the decks for the day. Then, at the end of the day, reading something that is in the world of the imagination. Something not on the screen.
  • A key idea of getting the best out of digital reading is to constantly ask what the purpose if of what you’re reading, and whether you need to do something more with the content. For the majority of time, the answer to this will be no.


Show’, ‘The Ezra Klein. ‘Opinion | This Is Your Brain on “Deep Reading.” It’s Pretty Magnificent.’ The New York Times, 22 November 2022, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/22/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-maryanne-wolf.html.