Much has been said about how digital media are changing how we write. Not surprisingly, reading is also changing. Eye-tracking experiments suggest that online reading does not progress in any “logical” way but unfolds like a giant-font letter “F” superimposed on the web page. We read in a horizontal movement across the upper part; move toward the bottom and read across in a second horizontal movement; then scan the left side in a quick vertical glance. Online reading seems just as foreign as the emoticons of online writing.
We scan and forage, rather than read, in part because of significant distractions from competing Web pages. Much of learning starts with a teacher imploring students to “pay attention.” Yet many kids are unable to focus for longer than it takes to write a status update. Studies of students suggest a link between attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Internet use. For example, in a study involving 216 college students, 32 percent of Internet “addicts” had ADHD, compared to only 8 percent of normal users. While this does not prove causality, it suggests that our virtual lifestyle may be making us crave Ritalin.
Another cornerstone of cognition is memory: What good are reading, writing and attentiveness without retention? But more students are asking: Why bother to remember when all information is at our fingertips and when a Gmail account arrives with 7 gigabytes of free storage? Memorizing has become a lost art as we have moved from cramming our brains to