Maryanne Wolf (the Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA) recently authored an article, Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound,” in The Guardian Newspaper (25 August 2018). Her crux is that the human “acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding” to a “highly elaborated reading brain.”

But now we are reading differently. We humans have gone high-tech. Information now flies at us quickly and in various forms. The brain quickly slips into “skim” mode demanding only that which is important. Often cases, a headline will do. Or, better yet, a short video. It’s all we have time for.

What gets missed then, are the six-thousand years of learned human literacy and what that allows for our species. As Wolf points out, some of our greatest human achievements are derived from the simple act of reading: “internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight.” It’s hard to get that from a headline.


We humans lose their touch if we choose to no longer “deep read”?

So now, in the twenty-first century, humans demand to know less, refuse to reason, cannot see the forest because trees are in the way, have little inducement to look at issues from other perspectives, and in doing so forget how to feel empathy for others. Further, thinking critically is difficult if humans refuse to access information. Insight about the world, about ourselves, all of this is lost.

In short, we human beings are growing cognitively impatient. If this trend continues, then the effects upon society will be profound. Already “tribalism” inculcates social media, and rumors have it that Russia recognized in America’s totemic culture that deep, rational thinking is not all that valued. Russia’s social media blitzkrieg duped many Americans and may have swayed the election of 2016. Our collective refusal to critically confront what we read, to demand more of it than what the written word can give (reading between the lines) then we lose insight, we dim our knowledge intake, we become less tolerant, and allow ourselves to be swayed by the latest trend, false narrative, and worse of all, demagoguery.

In Wolf’s article, she makes a case for “bi-literacy”: to be both deep readers and great skimmers, to hang on and improve upon our six-thousand years of cranial decoding while learning to adapt and acquire the art of skim to reinforce the former.