Digital Brain v/s Paper Brain

Brains aren’t wired for reading.

We’re not born with the ability to read or to learn to read.

We have to use parts of the brain that evolved to do other things.

Each child as a new reader must build an exclusively new reading circuit. Typically, children can form a simple learning circuit for reading or basic decoding. They eventually develop highly elaborated circuits and intricate intellectual processes over time. These reading circuits are shaped and generated by individual children’s characteristics, the type of reading instruction, the support they receive, and the medium(s) they are using to read.

The next generation will go beyond us in ways we can not imagine now; 65% of the jobs our present preschoolers will hold in the future haven’t even been invented yet transformed by a future that none of us can now predict. The future of the reading circuit will require an understanding of the limits and possibilities of both the literacy-based circuit and digital-based ones. This knowledge involves examining the cognitive, social-emotional, and moral impact of the affordability of present mediums and working toward the best possible integration of their characteristics for future circuits.

The evolutionary perspective on the reading brain across all written languages and reading development involves rearranging older structures to make new learning circuits. Humans are born with an incredible drive to expand capacities beyond one’s perceived limits by creating new tools and technologies. It’s fascinating how the very plasticity of the human brain primes and enables this process. Having said that, the plasticity in the brain has wisdom of its own. It uses it by altering some capacities like attention and memory when confronting our perceptual and intellectual limits with newer technological advances.

Here is the spice; Just the way there were “misses” in evolution, vanishing species, traits, or abilities to adapt to the environment that did not support their continuation. Similarly, there can be misses in the epigenetic changes to our cognitive capacities when we acquire newly essential skills for a future whose parameters we can barely imagine.

There will always be a gap or just a canal of differences between parents and children across every generation. Emphasis must be on the difference between our digitally raised children and ourselves rather than an understanding of what is best for children’s development regardless of this exponentially changing milieu.

Simple formula to understand this situation is three C’s—Child, Content, Context.

We are all navigating a transition into a digital culture of unfamiliar territory. For instance, scrolling the screen requires more effort from working memory. But the goal when reading is to take away as many demands as possible, taking part of our bandwidth. Same way, constant flickering on LED screens’ creates more work for the eyes, causing visual and mental fatigue. However, e-book reading gadgets like Kindles now don’t require scrolling and reduce eyestrain with e-ink technology making them possible superior to other digital-text formats.

This is the digital dilemma that is being acted out in the current cognitive, affective, and ethical processes now threatened. If we feel fearful about short-circuiting in future generations, trust in this circuit’s potential capacities to evolve. Nature of transition demand that we neither lurch forward with limited direction nor retreat backward. We need to tackle the possible adverse effects of digital media on reading without losing an opportunity for immensely positive contributions to children and society.




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Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar

Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar


Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist; Co-founder & Director @synapsepk Mental Health Entrepreneur. Recycled Stardust.Balint Group.Psychoanalysis.Grit 🇵🇰