READER, COME HOME
The Reading Brain in a Digital World
From the author of Proust and the Squid, a lively, ambitious, and deeply informative epistolary book that considers the future of the reading brain and our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies.
This book comprises a series of letters Wolf writes to us—her beloved readers—to describe her concerns and her hopes about what is happening to the reading brain as it unavoidably changes to adapt to digital mediums.
Wolf draws on neuroscience, literature, education, technology, and philosophy and blends historical, literary, and scientific facts with down-to-earth examples and warm anecdotes to illuminate complex ideas that culminate in a proposal for a biliterate reading brain. Provocative and intriguing, Reader, Come Home is a roadmap that provides a cautionary but hopeful perspective on the impact of technology on our brains and our most essential intellectual capacities—and what this could mean for our future.
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review 2018
A decade after the publication of Proust and the Squid, neuroscientist Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language at Tufts University, returns with an edifying examination of the effects of digital media on the way people read and think. A “researcher of the reading brain,” Wolf draws on the perspectives of neuroscience, literature, and human development to chronicle the changes in the brain that occur when children and adults are immersed in digital media. When people process information quickly and in brief bursts, as is common today, they curtail the development of the “contemplative dimension” of the brain that provides humans with the capacity to form insight and empathy. In describing the wonders of the “deep reading circuit” of the brain, Wolf bemoans the loss of literary cultural touchstones in many readers’ internal knowledge base, complex sentence structure, and cognitive patience, but she readily acknowledges the positive features of the digitally trained mind, like improved task switching. Wolf stays firmly grounded in reality when presenting suggestions—such as digital reading tools that engage deep thinking and connection to caregivers—for how to teach young children to be competent, curious, and contemplative in a world awash in digital stimulus. This is a clarion call for parents, educators, and technology developers to work to retain the benefits of reading independent of digital media.
“This rich study by cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf tackles an urgent question: how do digital devices affect the reading brain? Wolf explores the “cognitive strata below the surface of words”, the demotivation of children saturated in on-screen stimulation, and the power of ‘deep reading’ and challenging texts in building nous and ethical responses such as empathy. She advocates “biliteracy” — teaching children first to read physical books (reinforcing the brain’s reading circuit through concrete experience), then to code and use screens effectively. An antidote for today’s critical-thinking deficit.”
A cognitive neuroscientist considers the effect of digital media on the brain. In this epistolary book, Wolf (Director, Center for Reading and Language Research/Tufts Univ.; Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century, 2016, etc.) draws on neuroscience, psychology, education, philosophy, physics, physiology, and literature to examine the differences between reading physical books and reading digitally. Access to written language, she asserts, is able "to change the course of an individual life" by offering encounters with worlds outside of one's experiences and generating "infinite possibilities" of thought. She is worried, however, that digital reading has altered "the quality of attention" from that required by focusing on the pages of a book. Researchers have found that "sequencing of information and memory for detail change for the worse when subjects read on a screen." Reading digitally, individuals skim through a text looking for key words, "to grasp the context, dart to the conclusions at the end, and, only if warranted, return to the body of the text to cherry-pick supporting details." This process, Wolf asserts, is unlike the deep reading of complex, dense prose that demands considerable effort but has aesthetic and cognitive rewards. Physicality, she writes, "proffers something both psychologically and tactilely tangible." The author cites Calvino, Rilke, Emily Dickinson, and T.S. Eliot, among other writers, to support her assertion that deep reading fosters empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and self-reflection. The development of "critical analytical powers and independent judgment," she argues convincingly, is vital for citizenship in a democracy, and she worries that digital reading is eroding these qualities. Borrowing a phrase from historian Robert Darnton, she calls the current challenge to reading a "hinge moment" in our culture, and she offers suggestions for raising children in a digital age: reading books, even to infants; limiting exposure to digital media for children younger than 5; and investing in teaching reading in school, including teacher training, to help children "develop habits of mind that can be used across various mediums and media." An accessible, well-researched analysis of the impact of literacy.
"In this profound and well-researched study of our changing reading patterns, Wolf presents lucid arguments for teaching our brain to become all-embracing in the age of electronic technology. If you call yourself a reader and want to keep on being one, this extraordinary book is for you". Alberto Manguel, Author of A History of Reading, The Library at Night, A Reader on Reading, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions
"This is a book for all of us who love reading and fear that what we love most about it seems to slip away in the distractions and interruptions of the digital world. Here we are challenged us to take the steps to ensure that what we cherish most about reading —the experience of reading deeply—is passed on to new generations. Wolf is sober, realistic, and hopeful, an impressive trifecta. Her core message: We can’t take reading too seriously. And for us, today, how seriously we take it, will mark of the measure of our lives. " Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science, MIT; author, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age; Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other
"Our best research tells us that deep reading is an essential skill for the development of intellectual, social, and emotional intelligence in today’s children. In our increasingly digital world – where many children spend more time on social media and gaming than just about any other activity – do children have any hope of becoming deep readers? In her must-read READER COME HOME, a game-changer for parents and educators, Maryanne Wolf teaches us about the complex workings of the brain and shows us when - and when not - to use technology." Catherine Steiner-Adair, Author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age
“Scholar, storyteller, and humanist, Wolf brings her laser sharp eye to the science of reading in a seminal book about what it means to be literate in our digital and global age. Informed by a review of research from neuroscience to Socratic philosophy, and wittily crafted with true affection for her audience, Reader Come Home charts a compelling case for a new approach to lifelong literacy that could truly affect the course of human history. From the science of reading to the threats and opportunities posed by ubiquitous technologies for the modern preschooler, Reader Come Home reminds us that deep literacy is essential for progress and the future of our democracy. Bolstered by her remarkably deft distillation of the scientific evidence and her fully accessible analysis of the road ahead, Wolf refuses to wring her hands. With rigor and humility she creates a brilliant blueprint for action that sparks fresh hope for humanity in the Information and Fake News Age. Reader Come Home is this generation’s equivalent of Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message. Maryanne Wolf has written a seminal book that will soon be considered a must read classic in the fields of literacy, learning and digital media.” Michael Levine, Sesame Street, Joan Cooney Research Center, Co-Author of Tap, Click, and Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens.
"A love song to the written word, a brilliant introduction to the science of the reading brain and a powerful call to action. With each page, Wolf brilliantly shows us why we must preserve deep reading for ourselves and sow desire for it within our kids. Otherwise we risk losing the critical benefits for humanity that come with reading deeply to understand our world.”—Lisa Guernsey, Director, Director, Learning Technologies, New America, co-author of Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in A World of Screens