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Reading on the Surface: The Power behind the Internet - Essay Example

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Severe criticism of the Internet and other digital technologies has become rampant due to several currently published works where the assumption of the damaging impact of online habits on reading comprehension is enclosed within a discourse which emphasizes the disadvantages of technology…
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Reading on the Surface: The Power behind the Internet
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"Reading on the Surface: The Power behind the Internet"

Download file to see previous pages In his book The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains, Nicholas Carr (2010) severely criticizes digital reading. His evaluation of his own reading experiences in the Internet age thoroughly describes the growth of his habit to speed read or read on the surface, an adverse online behavior. He views this habit as an indication of lack of concentration, browsing from site to site, and discouraging deeper reading. However, this essay argues that the Internet does not weaken an individual’s ability to comprehend texts, especially lengthy ones; rather, the Internet promotes surface reading that eventually leads to deeper, insightful, and corrective reading.
Carr’s assumption about the reason deeper reading is not possible on the Internet is vague. He argues that skimming “is becoming our dominant mode of reading” (Carr 28). People willingly scan for information or do quick reading because of the massive quantity of information available today. But this does not imply that most people today cannot read in detail or reflectively. Basically speaking, skimming is not evidence that there is an absence of deep reading. Rather, it is simply an indication of overflowing information. The particular type of reading which Carr calls ‘surface reading’ has its equivalent in a different type of surface reading—the ‘prelectio’ (Fowley, English, & Thouesny 97-98). In order to explain the relevance of the concept of ‘prelectio’ to this argument, it is important to provide an overview of its history. In the monastic practice methods were created to decode and understand texts without reading thoroughly or in depth. Hence, it is believed that ‘prelectio’ and word separation were involved in the emergence of silent reading (Fowley et al. 98). In his book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading Saenger (1997) explains that the tradition of canonical word separation resulted in the emergence of silent reading in religious communities. The reading of the text to initially begin word separation was a skimming or browsing for information. The clerics scanned the text’s surface before performing a deeper reading. This preliminary pre-reading or browsing for information was a vital aspect of the decoding process. The transition is from pre-reading to a thorough or deeper reading. Therefore, this transition from skimming to reflection and comprehension disproves Carr’s argument. Surface reading, which Carr attributes to the Internet, in fact allows deeper reading. The connection between Internet reading and ‘prelectio’ is that both are performed on the basis of reading for information and not for the message. The form of reading provided by pre-web screen reading resembles the process of word separation (Fowley et al. 99). As argued by Giffard (2009, para 4): Before the web, in the practice of reading on a screen, the text is not the objective of the reader. Rather is it a control reading, a certain way to decipher and survey the information (sic) and operations of the computer. And reading is submitted to another activity that is the real goal. Internet reading resembles a control reading, reading for information, or ‘prelectio’ to make sure that the information provided is accurate or inaccurate. Internet reading is in fact ‘functional’ reading. Giffard (2009) claims that this type of reading for information or control reading is innate in any reading on screen and is very common today. Therefore, Internet reading is not really detrimental to an individual’s mental processes because it actually promotes higher order reasoning by scanning for and identifying ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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