We’re reading more online, but taking in less, New Zealand study shows

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 10:03pm

The internet is making more information available than ever before, but it's not necessarily making us smarter, New Zealand researchers have said.

In a study titled Is Google Making Us Stupid? The Impact of the Internet on Reading Behaviour, Victoria University researchers compared online and offline reading and found people were reading more text than ever, but recalling less of it.

In general, online reading was found to have a negative impact on people's cognition, with lower rates of concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates.

"Multitasking when reading online was common, with activities such as reading e-mails, checking news, exploring hyperlinks and viewing video clips providing distractions, which could have something to do with it," co-author Dr Val Hooper said. "People almost expect to be interrupted when they're on their computers."

Skim reading and scanning was the most common online reading behaviour, and as a result people were getting through more material.

"Many respondents said they had [learned] to read faster and more selectively, which is positive, but also said they were more likely to remember material they had read offline.

"It was still common practice for many people to print out material they considered most important."

The research indicated most people still read in a linear, print-based fashion, but the structure of much of what they were reading was inappropriate for the way in which they were receiving information.

"We need to learn how to read and write 'digitally' as well as how to effectively interpret and retain information we read online," said Hooper.

"If you think about how we're training our children to read, they're being trained by those who were trained in the linear fashion. So it will take at least a generation for significant change to happen," she said.