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作者:Maryanne Wolf


校对:刘   蕊

策划:唐   萧

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound


本文选自 The Guardian| 取经号原创翻译

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Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing – a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.


pacifier n. /’pæsɪfaɪə/ a rubber object that you give a baby to suck so that it does not cry〔哄婴孩用的〕橡皮奶嘴

hunch v. /hʌntʃ/  to bend down and forwards so that your back forms a curve 弓身

flotilla n. /flə’tɪlə/ a group of small ships小船队;此处指an indefinite large number

underliev. /ʌndə’laɪ/ to be the cause of something, or be the basic thing from which something develops 作为…的原因;构成…的基础

As work in neurosciences indicates, the 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 basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.


caution  /’kɔːʃ(ə)n/ v. to warn someone that something might be dangerous, difficult etc 警告,告诫

This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.

这不是一个关于纸质阅读与数字阅读、科技创新哪个更好的简单二元问题。就像麻省理工学院学者雪利·特克尔(Sherry Turkle)写到的,当我们做出创新时,作为一个社会我们没有错,但当我们忽视创新过程中扰乱与削弱了什么时,我们就错了。在这个印刷文化与数字文化的转折点,社会需要正视以下问题,在我们专门负责阅读的回路中什么正在减少,在我们的孩子及年长的学生中有什么能力没有发展起来,以及我们能对此做些什么。

diminish v. /dɪˈmɪnɪʃ/ When something diminishes, or when something diminishes it, it becomes reduced in size, importance, or intensity. 使减少; 变少 

hinge n. /hɪn(d)ʒ/ a piece of metal fastened to a door, lid etc that allows it to swing open and shut〔门、盖子等上的〕铰链,合叶; a determining factor : turning point 转折点

We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.

从研究中我们得知,人类的阅读回路不同于视力或者语言,它不是通过基因蓝图获得的。它需要环境来形成。而且,它会适应于环境的要求,不同的书写系统和所用媒介的特点都会对它产生影响。如果主导的媒介倾向于快速,多任务导向的阅读过程,且适合处理大量信息,就像如今的数字媒介一样,那大脑形成的阅读回路也会如此。加州大学洛杉矶分校的心理学家帕特里夏·格林菲尔德(Patricia Greenfield)写到,结果是,我们会花更少的精力与时间去进行慢速耗时的深度阅读,就像推断、批判性分析与共情,而这些对于任何年龄的学习都是必不可少的。

Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19thand 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.

心理学与人文学科的教育者与研究者们不断发表报告证实这一点。英语文学学者与教师马克·爱德蒙森(Mark Edmundson)说到,有许多大学生主动避免阅读19世纪与20世纪的经典文学,因为他们不再有耐心去读篇幅更长,更难懂的文本。我们不必为学生在认知过程中的不耐烦太担心,但是我们应该担忧这一现象的内在原因,即大量的学生在阅读中可能无法运用足够的批判性分析。这会使他们难以理解更吃力的文本中出现的复杂的思想与论述,不论是在大学的文学与科学课上,或是在遗嘱,合同中及在投票处会遇到的故意混淆人的全民公投问题。

bear sb/sth v. if facts or information bear out a claim, story, opinion etc, they help to prove that it is true 为…作证,证实,支持〔某种说法、看法等〕

Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading comprehension in older high school and college students. In Stavanger, Norway, psychologist Anne Mangen and her colleagues studied how high school students comprehend the same material in different mediums. Mangen’s group asked subjects questions about a short story whose plot had universal student appeal (a lust-filled, love story); half of the students read Jenny, Mon Amour on a Kindle, the other half in paperback. Results indicated that students who read on print were superior in their comprehension to screen-reading peers, particularly in their ability to sequence detail and reconstruct the plot in chronological order.

许多研究显示,数字化阅读可能正在对高中生与大学生的阅读理解产生一系列令人担忧的不利影响。挪威斯塔万格的心理学家安妮·曼根(Anne Mangen)与她的同事研究了高中生在不同媒介下是如何理解相同的材料的。曼根的团队向测试对象询问了一些关于一个短故事的问题,这个故事是一个充满欲望的爱情故事,对学生有普遍的吸引力。一半的学生是在Kindle上读的“珍妮,我的爱”,另一半学生则是在平装书上读的。结果显示,在纸质书上读的学生比在屏幕上读的学生在理解上表现得更好,尤其是在对细节排序,及按时间顺序重现情节的能力上更为突出。

Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.


Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes, human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.”

卡琳·利陶(Karin Littau)和安德鲁·派珀(Andrew Piper)指出了阅读的另一个方面:物质性。派珀,利陶与安妮·曼根的团队强调道,纸质阅读的触感为信息增添了一个重要部分:字词的一种“几何结构”,及文本在空间上的“存在感”。就像派珀指出的,人类需要知道他们在时间与空间的位置,这让他们可以返回并在重新审视中有所得,派珀称此为“重现的技术”。重现之所以重要,部分在于我们能够返回、检查并评估自己对文本的理解,这对年轻与年长的读者而言都是一样的。那么问题来了,当我们的年轻人在屏幕上略读,其中缺失的空间上的存在感使他们无法“回顾”时,他们的理解会怎么样呢?

US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade – with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.

美国媒体研究者丽莎·格恩西(Lisa Guernsey)和迈克尔·莱文(Michael Levine),美国大学的语言学家娜奥米·巴伦(Naomi Baron),及海法大学的认知科学家塔米·卡兹(Tami Katzir)调查了不同信息媒介产生的影响,尤其是对年轻人的影响。卡兹的研究发现在屏幕上阅读的消极影响早在四、五年级就出现了,这不但损害了人的理解能力,同时也对共情能力的发展不利。

The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.


collateral damage people who are hurt or killed, or property that is damaged accidentally in a war – used especially by the army, navy etc 附带性的破坏〔尤为军队等所用〕,波及无辜  

Atrophy /’ætrəfɪ/ n./v. if a part of the body atrophies or is atrophied, it becomes weak because of lack of use or lack of blood 萎缩

Navigate/’nævɪgeɪt/ v. to understand or deal with something complicated理解,应付〔困难复杂的情况〕

demagoguery/’dɛmə,gɔgəri/ n. You can refer to a method of political rule as demagogy or demagoguery if you disapprove of it because you think it involves appealing to people’s emotions rather than using reasonable arguments. 煽动的做法

There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice. The story of the changing reading brain is hardly finished. We possess both the science and the technology to identify and redress the changes in how we read before they become entrenched. If we work to understand exactly what we will lose, alongside the extraordinary new capacities that the digital world has brought us, there is as much reason for excitement as caution.


entrenched /ɪn’tren(t)ʃt; en-/ a. strongly established and not likely to change — often used to show disapproval 根深蒂固的〔常含贬义〕

We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a good society.


glut /glʌt/ n. a supply of something, especially a product or crop, that is more than is needed 供应过剩

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