The Reading Brain

When asked why he did not introduce a iPod like book reader, Steve Jobs arrogantly said, “the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.” He was being dismissive of Amazon Kindle, which was sold out in a day and was buying time to develop the Kindle killer. Still the point that Americans read less is a valid one.

Tom Ashbrook recently had an interview with Maryanne Wolf, the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, which explains that reading shapes the human brain and by reading less we are going through devolution.

Thus the reading brain is part of highly successful two-way dynamics. Reading can be learned only because of the brain’s plastic design, and when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed, both physiologically and intellectually. For example, at the neuronal level, a person who learns to read in Chinese uses a very particular set of neuronal connections that differ in significant ways from the pathways used in reading English. When Chinese readers first try to read in English, their brains attempt to use Chinese-based neuronal pathways. The act of learning to read Chinese characters has literally shaped the Chinese reading brain. Similarly, much of how we think and what we think about is based on insights and associations generated from what we read. As the author Joseph Epstein put it, “A biography of any literary person ought to deal at length with what he read and when, for in some sense, we are what we read.” [Reading Lessons From Proust and the Squid]

2 Comments

  1. Hai varnam
    Steve J was not arrogant but dismissive, he actually made an observation but was definitely not arrogant..
    Macbooks may one day become smaller than kindle…
    Regards
    arun

  2. “by reading less we are going through devolution.”

    I am not so sure…until recently most people couldn’t read – forget reading for pleasure or knowledge, even in the west – where literacy was/is generally high. Could we conclude evolution didn’t happen until few generations ago! There has always been and will be intellectually curious people, and it’ll always be just a small percentage of a society’s population. And then there is mass reading market that spikes for every Harry Potter…

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