Mr. V.T. sent this along, and it's another of those studies that are calling into question the neurological effects of our new digital age, where people are reading e-books, texting, emailing, and so on, rather than writing letters and reading actual books. Regular readers here probably are  well aware of my various "rants" against Amairikuhn edgykayshun, the deleterious effects of listening to what I call "one dimensional music" - melody propped up by pillars of chords, with a jungle drum beat pounding away through the subwoofers lulling everyone into a somnambulistic state of quasi-trance - the numbing effect of e-books, not to mention the fact that e-books allow the potential for the  "publishing industry" literally to change the formatting and content of the book at the push of a button, so that authors no longer have any control over their own canon, and voila! one has almost total control over information and "free speech." For that reason I have consistently warned my readers that I do not regard any e-book platform of my books as "canonical", and more recently have prohibited my publishers from issuing or allowing any of my books in an electronic book platform.

We'll get back to these points, because they form the core of my Orwellian high octane speculations today. Meanwhile, as I said, Mr. V.T. (and many others) sent along this article about the effects of "digital reading":

A neuroscientist explains what tech does to the reading brain

Here's the paragraphs that I'm focused on:

So what’s changing now with technology? How is that affecting our circuits?

The fact that a circuit is plastic is both its beautiful strength and its Achilles’ heel. Reading reflects our medium. And to the extent that a digital medium is going to require us to process large amounts of information very quickly, it will diminish from the time we have for slower processing work.

And these slower processes are deep learning, the ones that are more cognitively challenging. They’re the basis for going beyond that initial short circuit of decoding the information and understanding it at a very basic level. The digital medium affordance rewards and advantages fast processing at the cost of the slower processes that build our very important critical, analytical, and empathetic processes.

Why is it zero-sum, though? Surely it’s good to be able to skim when needed. Why does one take away from the other?

This is a question that requires a very careful attempt at explanation. It’s not zero-sum, but we have grown used to skimming. People like you and me who spend six to 12 hours a day on a screen are led to use the skimming mode even when we know we should use a more concentrated, focused mode of reading.

It’s an idea I call “cognitive patience.” I believe we are all becoming unable to take the time to be patient because skimming has bled over into most of our reading.


What are the consequences of all of us becoming skimmers?

Skimming has led, I believe, to a tendency to go to the sources that seem the simplest, most reduced, most familiar, and least cognitively challenging. I think that leads people to accept truly false news without examining it, without being analytical. One of my major worries is that when you lose the novel, you lose the ability to go into another person’s perspective. My biggest worry now is that a lot of what we’re seeing in society today — this vulnerability to demagoguery in all its forms — of one unanticipated and never intended consequence of a mode of reading that doesn’t allow critical analysis and empathy.

Hear hear! This phenomenon both of "skimming" (in the old days we called it "speed reading"), and the use of "the least cognitively challenged sources" is something that many teachers who are regular readers here have brought to my attention, particularly those who deal directly with literature or language courses; students not only cannot read well, but those who can, show little inclination or ability to read slowly and ponder deeply and critically.

And part of it is the result of reading via the digital technology rather than the old analog technology (books). There's another consequence I've blogged about before, but it's worth mentioning again. This is the phenomenon that has grown to become an implicit assumption of our digital "culture", and that is, all information is on the internet, and the way to find it is the search engine (which puts one at the mercy, as the political news has shown lately, of those designing the search engine algorithms). But not all information is on the internet, and this is particularly true of the nooks and crannies of "old" information, the wayward scholarly tome or medieval text. People no longer know how to use catalogs in libraries, some of which are not even fully on a digital platform (think of the large copyright libraries, the Library of Congress, the Oxford Bodleian, the British Library). Most of what I have researched for my own books, for example, are from books not available in any digitized format at all. Nor did I learn about some sources through "internet searches" but by reading the bibliographies from other books.

So what has all of this to do with today's high octane (and Orwellian) speculation?

Simply this: if one wanted to manipulate any given collective societal mind, then one surefire technique would be to introduce a technology that induces "speed reading" or "skimming", and not deep slow critical reading. One cannot "speed read" or "skim" Shakespeare any more than one can "fast forward" through a piece of music by JS Bach and gain any deep understanding of either. Those works are meant to affect - there's that word again! - not just the conscious critical mind but the "under mind" in a deep, and deeply philosophical way; they're designed to integrate and stimulate active intellectual and passionate involvement. It's the attention to detail and critical thinking about it that drives the critical mind. But if one wants to socially engineer a compliant population, then, yes, skimming is the way to go, and reading only on digital platforms, which can adjust both the flow and content of information, is also the way to go.

Which brings me to the core of my Orwellian High Octane Speculation of the day, for I can indeed imagine a world in which the sources of one's information will be criminalized, much like listening to the BBC in Europe during the Nazi occupation was a criminal act.  I can indeed easily imagine a world where sitting on a beach and reading a book or a magazine, rather than an ipad, could be a criminal act. I'm as much a user of the internet as anyone else, but when it comes to detailed information or presentation of an argument on a topic, hard copy books, for me, are still the way to go. And I can easily imagine a world where the old analog technology - the library - is the protected preserve of the rich and powerful, who alone have access.

See you on the flip side...


Posted in

Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and "strange stuff". His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into "alternative history and science".


  1. Richard on September 2, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    . . . In one’s humble opinion, each individual needs to be a little of each with an ability to adjust to need and data flow – a study reader, a skimmer with familiar information and / or for focused word sleuthing, a good listener, and a good observer. . . This usually comes with experience and practice even for those endowed with quickened synaptic activity from birth. . . Visual reading engages several parts of the brain, but can be very fatiguing to the visual sensory apparatus. . . Using visual, audio, and writing words together increases comprehension substantially with a minor drawback of additional time toward occasional review and possibly monetary costs. . . I know firsthand. . .

    . . . Each person’s situation is a unique one that needs to be gaged and sourced as it fits the individual to account for early childhood onward. . . To find piece-meal machined-parts by design one needs to consult a tool and die machinist for those kinds of parts put together as one unit. . . The mind and intellect are in a different league and make the machinist. . . If there was an easy solution known to humankind, it would likely be in practice already. . . I refrain from misusing the nosism of “We” in excess (preferably, not at all) as not all folks encounter the same experiences together, if at all, nor are they the others natural editor-in-charge of controlling behaviour. . . Reading words has helped to reduce a gap of unfamiliarity, but has not taken it away, if ever it will. . .

    . . . In one’s view, high tech reading and its many variations and combinations are just a step or two up from Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg’s printing press. . . His reproducible movable type die casts standardized literature and talk, and talk and talk, immensely allowing nearly anyone who could learn and was allowed to learn a daily communicator of words. . . How today’s methods are used might deserve some scrutiny, but it’s just the outside of the intellect showing and not the mindful intent beneath the skull that has the covetous and well positioned folk of wealth and riches seeking control worried. . . They’ve become blatantly manipulative using a number of methods to coerce their attending flock. . .

    . . . One can appreciate your sense of trepidation though regarding electronically published versions of well researched works and the potentially nefarious switch of terms by hacks unknown that shift the entire intended written work and its meaning. . . Myself, I prefer audio format when available, but ensure that the printed copy is nearby on one’s desk comprising the duet of written and spoken text. . . A study reader’s dream come true, actually. . . When content is important it’s almost a necessity to have both means available, especially, for re-learning how to speak from recognizing print and auditory word sounds. . . Important concepts are often reviewed in both formats for understanding. . . Auditory word sounds (frequency range recognition) for the hearing apparatus changes over time as one ages where the printed work in durable form remains essentially the same with corrected vision. . . A *plus* for printed text. . . Graphical illustrations, pictures worth a thousand words, support print copy, too, but are not necessarily lacking a means to reduce them to pixels and / or frequency with a modified interface. . .

    . . . Read, reading, read(red)-it, and retain it. . . Audio versions of same said. . . Hear, hearing, heard-it, and vocally and mindfully retaining it. . . Tactile forms of symbolism (writing and signing), active reproduction of symbol(s), and retaining the means of tactile reproduction for safe keeping toward posterity, duplication and recall are also collectively important. . . In some ways, a person cannot have one without the other. . .

    . . . Using each of the previously mentioned sensory sets to reinforce the other for meaning, to nurture additional idea formation, and enhance quality learning seem to build comprehension pathways far longer as one practices using these methods of communication. . . No revelation there, but there never seems to be enough attention paid to how the mind and brain through its construction continually integrate sensory inputs. . . It’s an ongoing learning process just as each of the sensory apparatuses are learning in the first place. . . It is, in part, what makes for the plasticity of brain and mind throughout one’s life span until transitioning the corporeal. . . Sometimes irresponsibly taken for granted. . .

    . . . As for the neuroscientist’s point of view from the article they still need to sort out and identify cell-types for purpose. . . That includes dealing with observer and experimenter biases they don’t even know they tote along with their experimentation(s). . . There’s far too much presumption about assumption in the lab despite some successes they’ve had when they used 1+1 and found that that expression actually does make two because they remembered to follow the basic rule of addition applied to the phrase suggested. . . They have work to do in that area of study before designating the “right-way” to read, if there is one, or arranging neurons to suit when they’re nuanced between individuals. . .

    . . . From this side of the monitor it seems that the way many of humankind have interfaced with technology (the impatient, all thumbs-absent-minded demeanor seen) is the culprit – that misdirected even misguided thumbs approach. . . In any case, it is a work in progress with a long way to go. . . I would rather have an additional sensory interface, instead of an un-natural all-thumbs QWERTY keyboard stuck at one’s finger tips, added to the five Aristotelean senses humankind is supposed to be limited with as well as the means to have an accessory uplink or static storage or given data base containing at least a 500,000-word collegiate dictionary, matching Thesaurus, 32 volume Britannica set, and accompanying translator for starters. . . Another ability to expand while exercising the grey and white cranial matter containing neurons and their accoutrements is not impossible. . . There might be another way or two, but since one does not know the flash-point of any “high-octane speculations” presented, one will not go there. . .

    . . . School-age folks read to by parents, allowed to read silently, and then read text vocally, especially, repeatedly when the child enjoys the story content comes with remarkable and ongoing results along with some embellishments the initial story might have instigated. . . The child engages their environment. . . Encouragement by the parents seems in need of support and modification. . . Their efforts with their children seem to build a mounting interest, a thought base for that participant, they can build onto, on their own, later on. . . In effect, the child adds to the story narrative in their own way by seeking sources to do so. . . “What compels anyone to pick up a volume to read, anyway?” . . “What’s that magic like motivation or desire to do so and where does it come from?”. . Heck if I know, but it’s easier said than done and I’m still not sure just how that works, either. . . Once it starts it’s as if there’s been an initiation of sorts into the linguistic realm of Being for the child. . .

    . . . The century old Remington typewriter keyboard, one called QWERTY, stuck to the finger tips, has limits and has forced unexpected behavioural changes. . . It’s had its time last century. . . It seems that once that’s realized and the time used for thumbing that dinky screen is tallied, change toward a neuro-interface will likely speedup to accomplish the same tasks of social media and beyond as well as doing so safely and effectively for purpose. . . Easier access to reliable and readable material is a good thing. . . Thanks for the article and link. . .

  2. wallaby on September 1, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    There are pros and cons for eBooks vs. hardcopy books. Each has its benefits and disadvantages.
    Here in Australia, and with an unfavourable exchange rate, hardcopy books sent by post from the USA (even with Amazon discounts) are expensive — much more expensive than the Kindle eBook version. And it can take a month or more for books to arrive from overseas unless you pay prohibitive express post rates. eBooks are available immediately and at a fraction of the price.
    I was a skeptic but now a regular user of a Kindle. Often more convenient than a bulky printed book — unless you want to annotate the book, there’s no real disadvantage. The quality of the page image is not much different from a printed book and you can adjust the type size to suit your vision.
    Regarding permanence, I make digital copies of all my eBooks separate from the Kindle “library” so even if Amazon deleted the contents of my library these other copies would survive.
    The other factor is storage space for physical books. My bookshelves are overflowing already and we are trying to get rid of “stuff” from our house, not add to it.

    • Robert Barricklow on September 2, 2018 at 11:23 am

      When I query Amazon on a title of a book the algorithm immediately rustles me into the kindle corral. They set prices and screw both authors and readers. Ironically, Amazon erased two books from their Kindle spread:
      Animal Farm & 1984; giving us a brief glimpse of…
      the future that stalks us.

  3. Syncromyst on September 1, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Thanks for this article, Dr. Farrell I was beginning to think I was the only one who noticed this change. I’ve noticed it within myself.
    I fully believe it is intended by the PTB.
    Here’s a little predictive programming that may jog a memory or two.
    The novel “Fahrenheit 451” written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953 described a dystopia where books were banned and replaced by inter-active TV.
    “Fahrenheit 451” made into a film in 1966 and remade in 2018 on HBO. I read the novel and saw the 1966 version. Scary.

  4. Allcingeye on August 31, 2018 at 9:42 am

    Hi all, one problem I have come across is watching a video with people refracting to hard copy books some with diagrams, pictures, ect formatting just goes out the window. I then try to print out to get a hard copy which one would think would be so so easy. not so easy. even getting a hard copy that has been reprinted with diagrams or pictures can also be hard. if i deem a book important I try to get a old hard copy of that book some are hard to get and if you find one it can cost a lot of money the book a got in digital form was from a torrent site called Sacred cross and the mushroom, but to get a hard copy that fell in my budget was quite hard I ended up wining a bid for one from Canada only £35 pound plus pp about £6 I never have been a reader of books but something deep inside tells me get important books in hard copy. my copy of Operation Mind Control is quite old and used and was still very hard to get may of got it for around fifty pounds, but digital has still got a great place because the pdfs of rare hidden books would not be available to me and can only be got though torrent type sites no way is the secret stuff getting on amazon and could not be formatted to fit and of course the older books was for people with money and could tell the truth as they seen it at the time. even then the occult book seem to still have codes of there own.

    • DanaThomas on September 2, 2018 at 11:41 am

      Getting rarish books at a reasonable price requires persistence. For example copies of the amazing “The Genius of the Few” are quite pricey but after regular searches for a few months I finally got one for about 30 pounds.
      As for pdfs, torrent and ad-linked websites should be approached with caution. There are platforms like a r c h i v e and s c r i b d where kind souls post copies of hard to find out of print books, but check them to make sure they seem complete. Again the rule is to do regular searches and download, because for some reason even copyright-free works sometimes disappear from the website.
      I’m all for authors getting royalties and having their works protected, but nobody gets royalties on books out of print for decades, just on the first sale by the publisher; and sometimes neither the publisher nor the author are around any more.

  5. goshawks on August 31, 2018 at 1:11 am

    RB, the latest ‘real reading’ book by Prof. Michael Hudson is now published (released Nov 13):
    …and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption – From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year

    • Robert Barricklow on August 31, 2018 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks Goshawks.
      That’s what Christ said, not forgive them their sins.
      History, once again, written to suit TPB.
      Hudson will again set the record straight.
      Thanks again,
      for the heads up.

  6. zendogbreath on August 30, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    E books r too much hassle. Remember when amazon first e published 1984 n got caught memory holing parts? Or did i just get mandela affected? Who started that anyway? Is that a backwards way of labeling folk conspiracy theorists? Seems more n more a good way to undermine us as is all we r talking bout here. I remember dmitry orlov (one of the best read living folk i evr interacted with) once wrote a bit on varying n regional literacy levels. Rissia comes to mind as one of the best nearing 100% a few times recently. It was mostly attributed to lack of schools n involved home life. Families made sure kids learned.

  7. Scott S on August 30, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    A couple years ago I heard Dr. Farrell say, “They call it kindle for a reason folks” and that was the moment I went back to buying paper books.

    • Robert Barricklow on August 31, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      Too true an analogy!

  8. marcos toledo on August 30, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Using myself as an example I had to battle through the graphic novels Barbarella and The Watchmen and I drop for now Howard The Duck. I had difficulty reading Heart Of Darkness and Lord Jim which I have dropped as well. This I think is a carefully crafted plan to promote illiteracy and non-thinking ignorance is strength is the new mantra of our masters.

    • BlueWren on August 30, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      Join the club. I was once a literature major but dropped out. I couldn’t see why the lecturers had such fascination with 20th century ‘literary literature’. When they turned their attention to the 18th Century, it was always throught their equalising lenses. I remember that I got into a lot of trouble when I said that Poe was mad. I was asked for evidence. I was to afraid to say his writing was evidence enough, because I didn’t want to be ‘branded’. Wish I’d said it now.

      • marcos toledo on August 31, 2018 at 7:00 pm

        BlueWren this problem began when I started using a computer thou I find it easier to read nonfiction books fiction books I find more difficult to read.

  9. goshawks on August 30, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    I am more concerned about brain-frequency effects:

    Our society (TPTB-controlled society) is being led to Beta-land. The ubiquity of information, much through digital media, is keeping us ‘outside’ in Beta brainwave frequencies (corresponding to awake, alert, focused). However, the synthesis of information occurs in lower brainwave frequencies (Alpha, Delta, Theta). “AHAs,” from lower-levels connecting the dots. (Much like a cow watching the other cows going into a chute and not coming out. Conspiracy thinking. Dangerous…)

    Not to mention, ‘altered states’ originate in the lower brainwave frequencies…

    So, if one were to only want meatbag humans, one would want them ‘stranded’ in Beta-land. Digital technologies are one more step away from Analog-land (lower brainwave frequencies)…

  10. Brian on August 30, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    “…more recently have prohibited my publishers from issuing or allowing any of my books in an electronic book platform.”

    As a long time fan of the good Dr., I find his attitude on this point to be very irritating. Although my preference is for hard copies, I happen to live on a small Caribbean island without bookstores. Shipping books, because of their weight, is typically quite expensive.

    In recent years, I have read nearly all of Dr Farrell’s books in the e-book version. without the e-books, I would be considerably more ignorant of his work.

    Print your hard copies if you like, but why punish the rest of us?

  11. Robert Barricklow on August 30, 2018 at 11:20 am

    I read deeply about this subject. I’m guilty of it. I used to speed read; but now I’m in hyper-drive. I attributed this phenomenon to my increased digital interfacing. In fact, the economy of the internet lives on click bait[ attention deficit disorder/cognitive dissonance]; thrives on monetizing this distraction of attention[opposite of deep thinking].
    I’ve written extensively on the change of medium and have recently pointed out; through analogies, the change from oratory – to writing technologies.

    • Robert Barricklow on August 30, 2018 at 11:29 am

      [Sorry, I’m not practicing what I preach; as I disrupt the flow[like the box man examining dice to disrupt the winning flow/rhythm]. I do this, as there is another culprit in this attention game> It’s not chance that our writings are sometimes purposely gone into the cyber grave. Thus I disrupt the disruption of a long piece[as happened yesterday, & still stings].

    • Robert Barricklow on August 30, 2018 at 11:45 am

      So in this surveillance/marketing platform our attention is the target; specifically, as the good doctor point out: Deep Thinking.
      Still again, I now use my hyper-drive reading in mainstream propaganda/lit; and reserve my s l o w reading for hard copy books like the doctor’s latest book[actually, I don’t have any e-books*].
      I regard the best seller list as chick-lit for dummies. Still, I take a mud bath now & then to see what junk the masses are supposed to swallow.
      My first review for Amazon was censored. I’ve subscribed to the fact that I will be continuously censored there; but still get advanced copies and every once & a while get something through the filters.
      All this to say, that this subject is deeply integrated throughout the digital space. It is at the digital tributary margins that the good stuff flows.
      When it gets too close the mainstream’s currents the filters will engage. Yet, as each side shifts for more ground, the technologies too change, in this tic for tac grab for your attention. For your grey matter is the target. Specifically, your ability to think deeply & critically.

      • Robert Barricklow on August 30, 2018 at 11:50 am

        */ I do have one ebook; as there were no hard copies. The author no doubt was disappointed, as was I. I’ll look through my records and get the title/author & post it here for the record.
        Oh, & Amazon scrubs some reviews at their pleasure.
        That’s the digital way of saying: in-your-face CONTROL!

        • Robert Barricklow on August 30, 2018 at 11:56 am

          I look at it as my Don Diego de la Vega side of the coin[One must assume the currency/language of the realm to play].

          • Robert Barricklow on August 30, 2018 at 12:10 pm

            Although in the digital realm the more appropriate analogous show would be:
            The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca.

        • Robert Barricklow on September 2, 2018 at 11:55 am

          Got up off my lazy behind and researched it:
          Operation Synapse by William Croft.
          NOW it’s out in paperback.
          I’d rather have had the choice between the two.
          I’ll probably get it to read it again, as the river has changed along with the man that swam into that digital Operation Synapse.

  12. Cleverson on August 30, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Sorry for my possibly bad English, I’m not a native speaker.

    You are right, but there is another side to the problem: Reading content on a digital platform may encourage obsessive skinning, but the person can still control himself not to do that. I find important that information in general is available digitally, if not for other reason, for making easy for some groups of people to access it, e.g. blind and visually empaired people, who can read using the so called screen readers, e.g.

    Surely there is the braille system, but the cost for printing braille books is some times prohibitive, not to say that braille books are usually near to six times the size of a regular book…


  13. WalkingDead on August 30, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Remember when you could go to a library for your source material or a good book to read? Try doing that now. Most libraries have become another arm of the propaganda mill. The Library of Congress and the British library are even guilty of burning books by the thousands. Our culture and history are literally being destroyed in secret.

  14. DanaThomas on August 30, 2018 at 6:37 am

    A very opportune post and having a house that is full of books I’m doing my bit. Not so sure about the “science fiction” scenario of criminalising the printed word, or at least no more than this has been done at various times and in various locations. Digital tech is widespread and this means that “cutting edge” people are well aware of its defects, its lack of security, or proneness to accidents. If you damage your kindle etc. your 10 thousand book “digital library” goes poof and how many have bothered to make a back-up?
    More worrying are the neurological effects, largely unknown, of staying too long in front of a screen. There is talk of diminished attention spans, though I’m still not sure about the alleged studies on this topic. If your life or some aspect of life you consider vital depended on reading and understanding the contents of some books, I suspect these spans would improve remarkably.
    There is of course the bad training provided by “social media”. Recently, I’ve been using Twìtter assiduously and observing my own reactions. It’s easy to understand how people can get caught up for hours in the desperate quest for “likes” and “followers” at the expense of any standard of quality in the messages sent.

  15. anakephalaiosis on August 30, 2018 at 5:57 am

    “Book of life” is an interesting read. It breaks down complexity into cyclical symbols, that continue from life to life.

    Code breaking pattern recognition is what Druidic Rune rebus is about, leading back to the Pyramid, as an analog book in stone.

    Poetic state of mind is a “realm”, that resembles a “lake”, that – when water holds maximum density – starts rotating vertically, bringing up the deep.

    Yahweh, as cycle of year, is ringing,
    in chorus of seasonal singing,
    and through solstices
    and equinoxes,
    he places his eye in wellspring.

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