Waking up to an alarm going off on a 5” smartphone.

Scrolling through e-mail and social media feeds on a tablet at breakfast.

Checking public transit or traffic updates from a smartphone or TV.

Sitting down in front of a computer at work.

Technology has never been more integrated into our daily lives; it has never been so vital to our activities and accomplishments, and information has never been so readily available because of it.

Breaking news is posted instantly online and spread virally through social media channels. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and the Yellow Pages are quickly becoming obsolete, replaced by search engines and collaborative sites like Wikipedia. Movies can be watched instantly online through streaming sites like Netflix and Shomi, turning a trip to the theatre into an event only reserved for the biggest blockbusters. Mobile apps give us an avenue to interact and experience content in ways that would be impossible on print and analogue media.

less than 30% of respondents actually take the time to read an article completely, with over 40% admitting to skimming through longer pieces

With so much available on screens and devices, it’s not surprising that we’re spending more time than ever staring into them. According to KPCB, the average person now spends about 10 hours a day on screens. Competition for attention has never been fiercer. Content is published as quickly as it is created, resulting in an overwhelming amount of information dumped online and presented to us every second of the day.

In response, many of us have developed a tendency to skim and skip to the content that catches our attention. According to Hubspot’s Consumer Behavior Survey, we tend to linger on eye-catching, relevant material like videos and social media posts while skipping through the longer written pieces. In fact, less than 30% of respondents actually take the time to read an article completely, with over 40% admitting to skimming through longer pieces. Unfortunately, developing this reading shortcut may have unexpected repercussions for our comprehension and learning capabilities.

Developmental Problems

A few years ago, CBC reported that a Winnipeg school division will be handing out iPads to all of its students and is looking to make them an essential tool for learning. This is just one case in a new trend among educational institutions, from universities to middle and elementary schools, opting to provide their students with tablets and laptops to facilitate a more interactive learning environment.

But according to Maryanne Wolf at the Center for Reading and Language Research, we tend to skim text presented on screens so quickly that we skip deep reading processes that allow us to properly digest and assimilate information. Other studies have also found that reading from screens is more stressful and takes up more mental resources than reading on paper.

Not only are concentration and learning capabilities compromised with too much screen-time, our mental and physical health are also affected. According to Victoria Dunckley M.D., child psychiatrist, children with “regular” screen exposure experience a lack of restorative sleep, sensory overload, and a hyper-aroused nervous system. “These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention,” says Dunckley.

Brain scan research (via Psychology Today) have also found that people with screen addiction suffer from gray matter atrophy, “spotty” white matter, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive function, and reduced dopamine function that leads to cravings for rewarding stimuli. These changes in behavior and anatomy bring up the discomforting image of a tired, distracted, and addicted child with an unhealthy, impaired brain.

With screens appearing on home appliances and objects like fridges, mirrors, and tabletops, we may need to actively seek out opportunities to disconnect from the kaleidoscopic digital world if not for our own mental well-being, then for the healthful development of future generations. So perhaps that dusty paperback may be the smarter choice after all.

Pilcrow Smartphone