On Screen Reading

If you’re reading this article online, chances are you’re reading it in an F-pattern. Your eyes are reading horizontally right now, but soon enough they’ll start to scan vertically, and eventually you’ll miss the lower right hand corner of the page. (That’s a typical reading, because, of course, now all you can see is that lower corner). As Thomas Newkirk points out in The Art of Slow Reading, that F-shaped pattern is how our eyes trace the “page” when we read screens.

The F-pattern, and the constant skipping from article to article that happens with online reading, explains why I get frustrated with screen reading. I’ve read on a Kindle and an iPad, and do a good portion of my daily reading on my computer (news articles, Buzzfeed, my own writing, etc). Screen reading has changed my reading habits—I find myself reading to grasp, rather than absorb, constantly distracted by ads and links to other articles. I click out of online newspapers and articles feeling a bit unsatisfied. This change became particularly obvious to me recently when I sat down to reread A Wrinkle in Time and had trouble focusing. So, I’ve shifted to buying more paper books and my iPad has been relegated to checking social media and scanning through Pintrist. I’m not alone. The Wall Street Journal recently covered the slow reading movement; “a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions.”

I wonder how reading will change as screens continue to proliferate—will the way we read evolve to allow us to have the same enjoyment and depth that we have when we read books? I’m sure this same lament has been made before with some technology that we now take for granted. (Newkirk writes about the transition from reading aloud to reading silently as something that was lamentable, and is now expected.) Still, with everything that sucks up time these days—work, trips to the DMV, cooking dinner, pinning recipe ideas on Pintrist—reading for any stretch of time is a luxury. So, it seems like a luxury worth investing in.

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