A Response to Katherine Hayles “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.”


Katherine Hayles, Professor of Literature at Duke University, presents “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine” at Duquesne University.

After reading Katherine Hayles paper with interest I decided to also watch How we Read: Close, Hyper, Machine  via this link whilst cooking dinner. The areas I found very interesting (and true) are those regarding the monotonous, repetitive task of scrolling and skim reading through web ‘pages’ (which I admit I) in order to find the parts which are most useful to what I need for my work at hand. Hayles continues to discuss how this method of reading is changing the neurobiology of our brains.
Close reading is seemingly dying out, especially it seems in academia as the art of skimming has taken precedent to such an extent that many of us no longer do any close reading. We text, tweet an article of interest (that may or may not have been properly read), and are becoming experts in the quick and fast nature of a consumerist digital society. Only consumerism itself is in this sense knowledge based (knowing how to access information quickly) which is frightening to those lovers of books and of course exciting for those born into the digital world.
Hayles discusses the brain being reprinted into reading like this, reprogrammed through the repetitive nature into a mode which facilitates the pace we all need to keep up with, creating the ‘F’ shape style which Hayles states most people do especially when surfing the web.

Grandmothers tend to have wisdom beyond their years which to young ears, a few generations apart seems ridiculous but which make more sense as the years go by. My Grandmother used to tell me that if you watched TV or were on the computer for too long you would “get square eyes”.. I can’t help but reflect on Hayles piece with this in mind. I wonder if in years to come humans are born with eyes adapted for the screen…who knows, they may even be square!

Jokes aside, the fact still remains that when I sit for a few hours in front of a computer (I have been firmly planted in front of the screen for the most of the past seven days), my eyes hurt. I need to get up, walk around, have a cuppa etc fairly regularly in order for my eyes “go square”.  How can this be conducive to human physiology let alone socially? Unless this is simply an indication that human beings adapt quite incredibly to their given environment. I do wonder if the web is not isolating people more by creating a more individualised society in which we check our emails before we have breakfast or look at our phone whilst having a cup with a friend or loved one. Yet, there are many aspects where the opposite would be true, making lives much more connected..But where does this take us as a society of social beings?

However, the reality is that our social society is digitalised. I sat on a bus this morning and six out of the eight people sitting close to me had phones or ipods out and were engrossed in them, that’s some percentage! Needless to say, the majority of them were below thirty years of age but none the less the technology was most definately an ‘McLuhmanesqe’ extension of themselves.

Work Cited.


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