If you love the smell of the library stacks, the look of a leather-bound book, or the feel of crisp paper as you turn pages, you probably prefer physical text to reading on the web. Although there are several advantages to digital technologies that enable you to read from your computer screen, including the quick links made available by hypertext, there are also negative aspects to reading on the web. As Nicholas Carr, Christina Lupton, and Tony Schwartz note in respective articles, digital reading can quickly turn into distracted reading.

Isaac Knapp and Kate Imwalle have noted that the digital humanities do not necessarily lead to distraction-free reading. In fact, asking students to spend time on the internet may mean we are asking them to sacrifice knowledge retention for quick research: “short-term [memory] is fragile: A break in our attention can sweep its contents from our mind” (Carr 6). While it may be easy to point to the advantages of integrating new digital technologies into the classroom environment, Carr notes that “[w]hen we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain” (11). Put simply, switching to digital approaches means we will necessarily lose something from more traditional styles of teaching and researching.

While some might claim that we should constantly strive to rework our educational systems—myself included—there are serious concerns to be raised about switching to wholly digital platforms. As Tony Schwartz notes in “Addicted to Distraction,” too much digital stimulation can lead to a “compulsion loop” (2), or a literal addiction to technology. For Schwartz, reading novels and nonfiction (i.e. physical books) led him to increase his focus and decrease his dependence on digital systems like email, for example. As Carr argues, “skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought” (12). The typical literature classroom, one that is often technology-free, may just be the answer to the issue of focus.

There is a definite advantage to engaging with arising digital technologies, allowing literary studies to reshape itself in a connected world. However, an increasingly digital world may also make reading novels more important than ever before. In the future, sustained thought may only be possible for those who still read books on a regular basis.

Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas. “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.” WIRED Magazine. 24 May 2010. Web. 21 Mar. 2016

Schwartz, Tony. “Addicted to Distraction.” The New York Times. 28 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.