The paradox of the changing brain

According to the latest neuroscience research the electronic media is changing the way we read and process written information. The article Is Google making us stupid? describes how deep concentration while reading a book gives way to snapping bits and pieces of ‘content’ from different electronic media. Not only the kind of information around us is changing, apparently, but the connections within our brain themselves. It seems that we are no longer able to process a long text without loosing our concentration on the third page to see if a friend has twittered something. According to this we should be on our way to value short texts over long ones.

Thinking of this I have looked at the Barnes & Nobles Top 100 Bestsellers of the moment. Number one is a Harry Potter title of 128 pages. The second place is taken by ‘The brass verdict’ by Michael Connelly, a thriller of no less than 432 pages. The third title, ‘Eclipse’ by Stephen Meyer, counts… 640 pages! Walk into any bookstore and look at the shelves. Do you see any THIN books? They are in the poetry and collectors’ items department. As a Dutch editor once said to me: ‘Thin books don’t sell. Short stories don’t sell. They are too short’. The Harry Potter novels are the favorite read of children and adolescents – our new generation, born when electronic media already existed, their brain circuits altered by the extensive use of internet, sms and video games. Harry Potter is a series of seven thick books. The children read them all. After that they go and watch all the Harry Potter movies, each of more than 2 hours.

I am therefore not so worried about our changing brain circuits. What I do worry about a little is the fact that when I was a child my friends were reading Dickens and Tolstoy, but nowadays my friends, who are in their thirties, read Harry Potter.

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