"The Internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around," wrote Philip Yancey, author of The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing About Grace, in a post on his Reading Wars blog that was reprinted in the Washington Post last week. "When I read an online article from the Atlantic or the New Yorker, after a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article's length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links."
Yancey describes how his reading habits have changed since the advent of social media: where he used to dedicate time to read difficult, demanding and rewarding books, he now finds himself finishing fewer books or even online articles and succumbing to the temptations of clickbait. The explanation for this, he related, is that "when we learn something quick and new, we get a dopamine rush; functional-MRI brain scans show the brain's pleasure centers lighting up." E-mails, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter can all supply this dopamine rush, and it is the constant pursuit of that fleeting pleasure that is responsible for Americans reading less and less.
"Deep reading," the sort of reading that "requires intense concentration, a conscious lowering of the gates of perception, and a slower pace," demands more than just willpower, Yancey wrote. One has to build a "fortress of habits," with "walls strong enough to withstand the temptations of that powerful dopamine rush while also providing shelter for an environment that allows deep reading to flourish."
Yancey continued: "I'm still working on that fortress of habit, trying to resurrect the rich nourishment that reading has long provided for me. If only I can resist clicking on the link 30 Amish Facts That'll Make Your Skin Crawl...."