a blog that covers reviews, travel logs and research infos etcetera etcetera: mumtaz.blogspot.com

Speed Reading in the Age of Distractions

Research done at University of Gothenburg shows that reading skill drops with the increase of computer use in daily life. According to the researcher Monica Rosen:

“By comparing countries over time we can see a negative correlation between change in reading achievement and change in spare time computer habits which indicates that reading ability falls as leisure use of computers increases.”

Well, this is pretty much true but does not conclude that poor reading results in poor academic performance too. What is the purpose of reading? I believe it could be leisure, knowledge, academic achievement, self development, contribution to the benefits of human beings or like. If a better expressive media is available to achieve the same goals then why not go with the alternative media?

Dr. Enver Sajjad, a strong believer in exploiting electronic media, was an early covert. He wrote a lot in Urdu including research on literature, short stories, and fictions. In 1970s and 1980s he has contributed a lot in the form of short television plays. He says:

why keep writing short stories (afsaana) when a more expressive option is available as TV plays

The more recent example is Moosa Feroz: a 14-year old student from Phalia, a far-flung area of Punjab, who secured the first position in an online World Maths Day’s competition, held in Australia. At the age of 14 he is declared as an ambassador of maths.The main issue is not book reading vs other media options, I believe it is how you look at it and what choices you made for book reading or playing online games. It makes a lot of difference while playing maths games versus ordinary video games.

Keeping aside whether or not poor reading results in poor academic performance, reading speed is decreased over time due to a lot of distractions in the age of digital world; as a kid you have options to enjoy computer games, watch TV shows, play video games on various gaming consoles like Wii, PS3 and XBox etc. Furthermore, a transition is underway from paper books to eReaders and browser-based readers that leads to another set of distractions; ads, ereader glares, links to related information, and options to dig into deeper details of a certain word, incident or a place etc. We are living in the age of distractions and people are adapting themselves to the new circumstances and bad reading habits.
I r i s  R e a d i n g (IR) identifies three bad habits or causes of slow reading:

  • Fixation: special but unnecessary focus on each and every word
  • Regression: repeating parts of the text that is already read
  • Auditory Reassurance: silently pronouncing words while reading

IR recommends trying to go faster mentally as well as mechanically while reading. One can improve reading speed by treating words as symbols and reading them in clusters, reading with a pacer like hand or a pen, and assuming spaces and punctuation marks do not exist. For a better comprehension with speed reading, always slow down on first sentence and any highlighted text of each paragraph; fast read the remaining text. For technical readings a Multiple Review Process (MRP) could be very handing. MRP goes like this:

  1. Review the article by just reading headings, introduction and conclusion
  2. Read first sentence in each paragraph to get the bigger picture
  3. Read everything with speed reading skills
  4. Go back and make a final review of the text, take notes, and highlight main points; do not highlight main points in step 3 otherwise you will end up highlighted everything instead of just important points
  5. Recite and rewrite in your own words the notes taken in the final review; ask question and try to give answers based on what you read and learned
I believe by following multiple review process people can make significant improvement in their reading performance. You could become a good critic by just raising a few questions about the ideas represented in the article.

Reading performance is decreasing over time in the age of digital distractions. Although poor reading speed does not necessarily mean poor academic performance as well yet speed reading is a desirable thing; it can be improved by learning speed reading techniques and by following the multiple review process.


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