Posts Tagged ‘Maryanne Wolf’

Concluding Letters

October 24, 2018

What struck HM about the concluding letters (chapters in Wolf’s parlance) in “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf was that they were not especially unique to digital media. They applied generally to reading and education.

One letter was titled “Between Two and Five Years: When Language and Thought Take Flight Together.” The most important point in this chapter is to read to your children. This goes beyond reading to the building of intimacy and rapport with your children. And it will fill them with the wonder of books, be that in print or digital. Some of HM’s favorite childhood memories are of his mother reading to him. She read many items some of which were “Peter Pan,” “Tom Sawyer,” and sports books by Claire Bee featuring Chip Hilton. The wonder that these abstract characters on a background yielded such interesting and entertaining stories that stimulated the mind to create images of the stories. So when reading was the subject at school, HM was a highly motivated student.

Another letter is titled “The Science and Poetry in Learning (and teaching to Read). True there are necessary adaptions for digital material, some yet to be identified, and these are important subjects. Moreover, science is involved in addressing the questions raised by digital media. Relevant sections titles are ‘Investment in Early, Ongoing Assessment of Students,” “Investment in Our Teachers,” and “Investment in the Teaching of Reading Across the School Years.”

Another letter is titled “Building a Biliterate Brain.” “Biliterate” here refers to being literate in both conventional and digital media. But this is what the entire text addresses, and it should not be thought that everything is known about conventional media. True, the ignorance is greater on the digital side, and the genius is combining so there is a synergy between the two. Research is needed. There needs to be professional training and development, and it is important that there be equal access regardless of the financial resources of the schools.

The final letter is titled “Reader, Come Home,” which again extols the virtues of reading and thinking.

The Raising of Children in a Digital Age

October 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a letter in “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Wolf refers to her chapters as letters. Wolf writes: “The tough questions raised in the previous letters come to roost like chickens on a fence in the raising of our children. They require of us a developmental version of the issues summarized to this point: Will time-consuming, cognitively demanding deep-reading processes atrophy or be gradually lost within a culture whose principle mediums advantage speed, immediacy, high levels of stimulation, multitasking and large amount of information?”

She continues, “Loss, however, in this question implies the existence of a well-formed, fully elaborated circuitry. The reality is that each new reader—that is, each child—must build a wholly new reading circuit. Our children can form a very simple circuit for learning to read and acquire a basic level of decoding, or they can go on to develop highly elaborated reading circuits that add more and more sophisticated intellectual processes over time.”

These not-yet-formed reading circuits present unique challenges and a complex set of questions: First, will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read. What will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction? Second, if they are affected, will such changes alter the makeup of the resulting expert reading circuit and/or the motivation to form and sustain deep reading capacities? Finally, what can we do to address the potential negative effects of varied digital media on reading without losing their immensely positive contributions to children and to society?

The digital world grabs children. A 2015 RAND study reported the average amount of time spent by three-to-five year old children on digital devices was four hours a day, with 75% of children from zero to eight years old having access to digital devices. This figure is up from 52% only two years earlier. The use of digital devices increased by 117% in just one year. Our evolutionary reflex, the lovely bias pulls our attention immediately toward anything new. The neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says, “Humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as we will to get a meal or a mate…In multitasking, we unknowingly enter an addiction loop as the brain’s novelty centers become rewarded for processing tiny new stimuli, to the detriment of our prefrontal cortex, which wants to stay on task and gain the rewards of sustained effort attention. We need to train ourselves to go for the long reward and forgo the short one.”

Levitin claims that children can become so accustomed to a continuous stream of competitors for their attention that their brains are for all purposes being bathed in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones more commonly associated with fight, flight, and stress. Children three, or four, or sometimes even two and younger—but they are first passively receiving and then, ever so gradually requiring the levels of stimulation of much older children on a regular basis.

The Stanford University neuroscientist Poldrack and his team has found that some digitally raised youth can multitask if they have been trained sufficiently on one of the tasks. Unfortunately, not enough information is reported to evaluate this claim, other than to leave it open and look to further research to see how these skills can develop.

Wolfe raises legitimate concerns. Much research is needed. But the hope is that damaging effects can be eliminated or minimized. Perhaps even certain types of training with certain types of individuals can be done to minimize the costs of multitasking.

Digital Media and the Loss of Quality Information

October 22, 2018

To put matters in perspective before proceeding it is useful to remember that Socrates saw dangers in the printed word. He believed that knowledge needed to be resident in the brain and not on physical matter. He thought that the printed word would result in going to hell in a hand basket (Be clear that he did not say this, but he did see it as a definite potential danger). So this new digital world has much to offer, but also has dangers, and we need to avoid these dangers.

Frank Schirrmacher placed the origins of the conflict without our species’ need to be instantly aware of every new stimulus, what some call our novelty bias. Hyper vigilance toward the environment has definite survival value. It is virtually certain that this reflect saved many of our prehistoric ancestors from threats signaled by the barely visible tracks of deadly tigers or the soft susurrus of venomous snakes in the underbrush. Unfortunately experts in”persuasion design” principles know very well how to exploit these tendencies.

Wolf writes, “As Schirrmacher described it, the problem is that contemporary environments bombard us constantly with new sensory stimuli, as we split our attention across multiple digital devices most of our days, as often as not, nights shortened by our attention to them. A recent study by Time, Inc. of the media habits of people in their twenties indicated that they switched media sources twenty-seven times an hour. On average they now check their cell phones between 150 and 190 times a day, As a society we’re continuously distracted by our environment, and our very wiring as ominous aids and abets this. We do not see or hear the same quality of attention, because we see and hear too much, become habituated, and then seek still more.

Enter “The Distracted Mind” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find many more relevant posts on this topic. There are clearly two distinct components to this problem: Staying plugged in and the volume and quality of information.

Unfortunately, Wolf does not directly address the topic of being plugged in, but this problem needs to be addressed first before significant progress can be made on the second. Being constantly plugged in precludes one from making any progress on this problem. There are simply too many disruptions and distractions. So one either unplugs cold turkey and remains that way, either only plugging in to communicate or strictly limiting the time one is plugged in. Clearly there are social implications here, so one needs to explain to one’s friends and acquaintances why one is doing this and try to persuade them to join you for their own benefit.

Next one can deal with the volume of communications. Wolf notes that the average amount of communication consumed by us is 34 gigabytes. Moreover, this is characterized by one spasmodic burst after another. Barack Obama has said he is worried that for many of our young, information has become “a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather a tool of empowerment, rather than a means of emancipation.”

The literature professor Mark Edmundson writes, “Swimming in entertainment, my students have been sealed off from the chance to call everything they’ve valued into question, to look at new ways of life…For them, education is knowing and lordly spectatorship, never the Socratic dialogue about how one ought to live one’s life.”

Wolf writes, “What do we do with the cognitive overload from multiple gigabytes of information from multiple devices? First, we simplify. Second we process the information as rapidly as possible: more precise, we read more in briefer bursts. Third, we triage. We stealthily begin the insidious trade-off between our need to know with our need to save and gain time. Sometimes we outsource our intelligence to the information outlets that offer the fastest, simplest most digestible distillations of information we no longer want to think about ourselves.”

This post is based in part on “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. She does discuss how she managed to discipline herself and break these bad habits, although she doesn’t mention the importance of the first necessary act to unplug oneself.

Then one needs to decide that technology is a tool one should use to benefit oneself rather than letting technology drives one life. Realize that we humans have finite attentional resources and prioritize what sources and types of technology should be used to pursue specific goals. These will change over time as will goals, but one should always have goals, perhaps as simple as learning something about x. If that is rewarding, one can pursue it further, move off to related areas, or to completely new areas. The objective should always be to use technology, not be used by technology, for personal fulfillment.

This post will close with a quote from Susan Sontag:
“To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention…The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention, has its limits, but whose limits can be stressed.”

And one from Herman Hesse’s essay “The Magic of the Book:’
“Among the many worlds which man did not receive as a gift of nature, but which he created with his own spirit, the world of books is the greatest. Every child, scrawling his first letters on his slate and attempting to read for the first time, in so doing, enters an artificial and most complicated world: to know the laws and rules of this world completely and to practice them perfectly, no single human life is long enough. Without words, without writing, and without books thee would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Deep Reading Endangered by Technology?

October 21, 2018

This post is based on “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. MIT scholar Sherry Turkle described a study by Sara Konrath and her research group at Stanford University that showed a 40% decline in empathy in young people over the last two decades. The most precipitous decline occurred in the last ten years. Turkle attributes the loss of empathy largely to their inability to navigate the online world without losing track of their real-time, face-to-face relationships. Turkle thinks that our technologies place us at a remove, which changes not only who we are as individuals but also who we are with one another. Wolf writes, “The act of taking on the perspective and feelings of others is one of the most profound, insufficiently heralded contributions of the deep-reading process.”

Barack Obama described novelist Marilynne Robinson as a “specialist in empathy.” Obama visited Robinson during his presidency. During their wide-ranging discussion, Robinson lamented what she saw as a political drift among many people in the United States toward seeing those different from themselves as the “sinister other.” She characterized this as “dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.” Whether writing about humanism’s decline or fear’s capacity to diminish the very values its proponents purport to defend, Ms Robinson conceptualized the power of books to help us understand the perspective of others as an antidote to the fears and prejudices many people harbor, often unknowingly. Within this context Obama told Robinson that the most important things he had learned about being a citizen came from novels. “It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And that it’s possible to connect with someone else even thought they’re very different from you.”

It is most insightful that the polarization that is being experienced, is due in large part to missing empathy, which to some degree, perhaps large is due to digital screen technology. Although technology has been blamed for much, part of the problem here is not just the display mode of information, but also the type of content of the information. Quality fiction builds empathy. Even technical reading can build empathy provided the content can be related to the feelings and thinking of others. And some social research does summarize the feelings and thinking of others.

Wolf writes, “There are many things that would be lost if we slowly lose the cognitive patience to immerse ourselves in the worlds created by books and the lives and feelings of the “friends” who inhabit them. And although it is a wonderful thing that movies and film can do some of this, too, there is a difference in the quality of immersion that is made possible by entering the articulated thoughts of others. What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thought and feelings of someone totally different? What will happen to older readers who begin to lose touch with that feeling of empathy for people outside their ken or kin? It is a formula for unwitting ignorance, fear and misunderstanding, that can lead to the belligerent forms of intolerance that are the opposite of America’s original goals for its citizens of many cultures.”

Deep reading involves more than empathy. Wolf writes, “The consistent strengthening of the connections among our analogical, inferential, empathic, and background knowledge processes generalize well beyond reading. When we learn to connect these processes over and over in our reading, it becomes easier to apply them to our own lives, teasing apart our motives and intentions and understanding with ever perspicacity and, perhaps, wisdom, why others think and feel the way they do. Not only is it the basis for the compassionate side of empathy, but it also contributes to strategic thinking.

Just as Obama noted, however, these strengthened processes do not come without work and practice, nor do they remain static if unused. From start to finish, the basic neurological principle—“Use it or lost it”— is true for each deep-reading process. More important still, this principle holds for the whole plastic reading-brain circuit. Only if we continuously work to develop and use our complex analogical and inferential skills will the neural networks underlying them sustain our capacity to be thoughtful, critical analysts of knowledge, rather than passive consumers of information.”

Mark Edmunson asks in his book “Why Read,” “What exactly is critical thinking?” He explains that it includes the power to examine and potentially debunk personal beliefs and convictions. Then he asks, “What good is this power of critical thought if you do not yourself believe something and are not open to having this belief modified? What’s called critical thought generally takes place from no set position at all.”

Edmonson articulates two connected, insufficiently discussed threats to critical thinking. The first threat comes when any powerful framework for understanding our world (such as a political or religious view) becomes so impenetrable to change and so rigidly adhered to that it obfuscates any divergent type of thought, even when the latter is evidence-based or morally based.

The second effect that Edmunson observes is the total absence of any developed personal belief system in many of our young people, who either do not know enough about past systems of thought (for example, Freud, Darwin, or Chomsky) or who are too impatient to examine and learn from them. As a result, their ability to learn the kind of critical thinking necessary for deeper understanding can become stunted, Intellectual rudderlessness and adherence to a way of thought that allows no question are threats to critical thinking in us all.

It is also important to be aware that Deep Reading has a generative process. Here is a quote from Jonah Lehrer—“An insight is a fleeting glimpse of the brain’s huge store of unknown knowledge. The cortex is sharing one of its secrets.”

Wolf writes, “Insight is the culmination of the multiple modes of exploration we have brought to bear on what we have read thus far: the information harvested from the text; the connections to our best thoughts and feelings; the critical conclusions gained; and then the uncharted leap into a cognitive space where we may upon occasion glimpse whole new thoughts. The formation of the reading-brain circuit is a unique epigenetic achievement in the intellectual history of our species. Within this circuit, deep reading significantly changes what we perceive, what we feel, and what we know and in so doing alters, informs, and elaborates the circuit itself.”

Neuroscience informs us that creativity is everywhere based on brain imaging and recording. There is no neat map of what occurs when we have our most creative bursts of thinking. Instead, it appears that we activate multiple regions of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate gyrus.

A View of the Reading Brain

October 19, 2018

This post is taken from “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Please excuse the detail, but it is important to gain an appreciation of what is involved in reading. The brain’s design is with the principle of “plasticity within limits.” The brain is able to go beyond its original biological functions—like vision and language—to develop biologically unknown capacities such as reading and numeracy. To do so, it forms a new set of pathways by connecting and sometimes repurposing its older and more basic structures. Faced with something new to learn, the human brain not only rearranges its original parts, but is also able to refit some of its existing neuronal groups in those same areas to accommodate the particular needs of the new function. The brain recycles and even repurposes neuronal networks for skills that are cognitive or perceptually related to the new one, Wolf writes, “This ability to form newly recycled circuits enables us to learn all manner of genetically unplanned-for activities—from making the first wheel, to learning the alphabet, to surfing the net while listening to Coldplay and sending tweets. None of the activities is hardwired or has genes specifically dedicated to its development; they are cultural inventions that involved cortical takeovers.” As there is no genetic blueprint for reading, there is no one ideal reading circuit. There can be different ones.

In addition to neuroplasticity, there is the concept of cell assemblies formulated by the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. The concept is that cells that fire together wire together. These specialist groups build the networks that allow us to see the smallest features of a letter or hear the tiniest elements in the sounds of language, literally in milliseconds. Cell specialization enables each working group of neurons to become automatic in its specific region and to become virtually automatic in its connections to the other groups or networks in the reading circuit. For reading to occur, there must be sonic-speed automaticity for neuronal networks at a local level, which, in turn, allows for equally rapid connections across entire structural expanses of the brain. So, whenever we name even a single letter, we are activating entire networks of specific neuronal groups in the visual cortex, which correspond to entire networks of equally specific language-based cell groups, which correspond to networks of specific articulatory-motor cell groups—all with millisecond precision. Multiply this scenario a hundredfold when the task is to depict what you are doing when reading with complete (or even incomplete) attention and comprehension of the meanings involved.

“In essence, the combination of these principles forms the basis of what few of us would ever suspect: a reading circuit that incorporates input from the two hemispheres, four lobes in each hemisphere (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital) and all five layers of the brain (from the uppermost telencephalon and adjacent diencephalon below it; to the middle layers of the mesencephalon; to the lower levels of the mesencephalon and myelencephalon).” So anyone who still believes that we use only a tiny portion of our brains hasn’t yet become aware of what we do when we read.

READER COME HOME

October 18, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of an important book by Maryanne Wolf. The subtitle is “The Reading Brain in the Digital World.” Any new technology offers benefits, but it may also contain dangers. There definitely are benefits from moving the printed world into the digital world. But there are also dangers, some of which are already quite evident. One danger is the feeling that one always needs to be plugged in. There is even an acronym for this FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But there are costs to being continually plugged in. One is superficial processing. One of the best examples of this is of the plugged-in woman who was asked what she thought of OBAMACARE. She said that she thought it was terrible and was definitely against it. However, when she was asked what she thought of the Affordable Care Act, she said that she liked it and was definitely in favor of it. Of course, the two are the same.

This lady was exhibiting an effect that has a name, the Dunning-Krueger effect. Practically all of us think we know more than we do. Ironically, people who are quite knowledgeable about a topic are aware of their limitations and frequently qualify their responses. So, in brief, the less you know the more you think you know, but the more you know, the less you think you know. Moreover, this effect is greatly amplified in the digital age.

There is a distinction between what is available in our memories and what is accessible in our memories. Very often we are unable to remember something, but we do know that it is present in memory. So this information is available, but not accessible. There is an analogous effect in the cyber world. We can find information on the internet, but we need to look it up. It is not available in our personal memory. Unfortunately, being able to look something up on the internet is not identical to having the information available in our personal memories so that we can extemporaneously talk about the topic. We daily encounter the problem of whether we need to remember some information or whether it would be sufficient to look it up. We do not truly seriously understand something until it is available in our personal memories. The engineer Kurtzweil is planning on extending his life long enough so the he can be uploaded to a computer, thus achieving a singularity with technology. Although he is a brilliant engineer, he is woefully ignorant of psychology and neuroscience. Digital and neural codes differ and the processing systems differ, so the conversion is impossible. However, even if it were understanding requires deep cognitive and biological processing. True understanding does not come cheaply.

Technology can be misused and it can be very tempting to misuse technology. However, there are serious costs. Maryanne Wolf discusses the pitfalls and the benefits of technology. It should be understood that we are not victims of technology. Rather we need to use technology not only so that we are not victims, but also so we use technology synergistically.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.