We all come to online texts with a different set of expectations that we bring to a book. We read books cover to cover, and even when we scan it tends to have a sequential quality to it. But research has shown that the average person does not read a webpage from left to right and from top to bottom. Instead they skip around, scanning for relevant information. (See the study released in 2008 by the research and consulting group nGenera).
While reading, and especially silent reading, works against the brain’s natural predisposition to constantly shift its attention from one object to another, reading online does just the opposite: it feeds the brain’s propensity for distraction. It is not difficult to see this at work. From pop-ups, to animations, to email notification, to live feeds to hyperlinks , the internet seems designed to distract us from one thing to focus our attention onto something else. When we go online, we enter what Cory Doctorow has appropriately termed an “ecosystem of interruption technologies.” Our attention is scattered amid a cacophony of stimuli, inundated with the type of mental stimulation that feeds off “small, rapidly dispensed pieces of information.”
In short, the calm, focused and linear mind of the reader is being pushed aside by what Nicholas Carr has called “a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts – the faster, the better.”
This suggests that our reading habits when we’re online will be considerably different to how we read a book, or even to a newspaper or magazine. The question is whether this differentiation can be sustained in the face of the increasing digitization of books. As everything from the King James Bible to the latest bestsellers are put in digital format, will the book begin to embody the furniture of the online environment, namely “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” ? If so, what are the implications for the church’s use of scripture? Should we resist the digitization of scripture, or does the form of a book even matter?
These are some questions that I have addressed in my series of articles "From the Kings James Bible to the i-pad." To read these articles, click on the following links:
From the King James Bible to the i-pad (Part 1)
From the King James Bible to the i-pad (Part 2)
From the King James Bible to the i-pad (Part 3)