Revolution Lullabye

January 30, 2013

Hayles, How We Read

Hayles, N. Katherine. “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.” ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): 62-79.

Hayles defines three kinds of reading – close, hyper, and human-assisted machine – and argues that all three, used synergistically, can help students and literary studies scholars discover patterns, meaning, and context in and across texts.  Her argument is written in resposne to the widely-held notion that digital, onscreen reading has a lasting detrimental affect on reading comprehension skills, as seen through K-12 testing scores, cognitive research on the brain, and anectodal evidence.

Hayles uses her own definition of hyperattention (as opposed to deep attention) to explain how hyperreading is different from close reading, which she argues is one of literary studies’ central values and practices.  Instead of condemning hyperreading, she argues that it is a valuable reading practice, helping students and scholars alike scan and skim large amounts of information quickly, thus identifying the most helpful sources and texts to use. 

Hayles also challenges the idea that human-assisted machine or computer reading (the use of algorithms to detect patterns across a large corpus) is inherently anti-humanistic; she cites Moretti’s application of distant reading principles and argues that the challenge for literary studies scholars is to find useful ways to integrate close, hyper, and machine reading in their interpretive work.

Notable Notes

critiques Carr’s argument that the Internet is changing brain structure (67, 71)

readers scan digital texts differently than print ones (F-shaped scan for digital text, more linear back and forth for print texts, Jakob Nielson) (66)

current students are ‘digitally native’ (62)

close reading defined the discipline of literary studies in the 1970s/1980s- it was a way for the field to congregate around a common value.  Does digital reading change that? Is close reading sufficient? (63)

problem: our classrooms don’t reflect the kinds of reading practices our students engage in – there’s a divide that is probably affecting how much our students learn (63; 65). Connection to Vygotsky’s learning theories.

James Sosonoski (1999) – hyperreading: “Examples include search queries (as in a Google search), filtering by keywords, skimming, hyperlinking, ‘pecking’ (pulling out a few items from a longer text), and fragmenting (163-172)” (66). – Hayles’ update includes juxtaposition (comparing across several open windows) and scanning (66).

what do we make of distraction of hyperreading? clicks, navigating, short bursts of info like tweets, tons of material (67)

hyperreading affects long-term memory (67-68), but is long-term memory a necessary part of the research process? Does every bit of information need to be committed to long-term memory for it to be valuable? (my response)

reference to Moretti as adopting machine reading-like characteristics to literary studies (73-74)

machine reading – relies on visualization, algorithms, mapping, diagramming  (73-75)

definition of a pattern: similarities as well as differences: “I therefore propose the following definition: a pattern consists of regularities that appear through a series of related differences and similarities” (74).

scale (close/hyper/machine) affects pattern, context, meaning (74) – the emphasis changes with the scale (74).

pedagogical examples of teaching hyper/machine reading (75-77): example of the analysis of Time Magazine covers.

Quotable Quotes

“I argue that we cannot do this effectively [convey to students our engagement with complex literary texts] if our teaching does not take place in the zone of proximal development, that is, if we are focused exclusively on print close reading. Before opinion solidifies behind a new version of close reading, I want to argue for a disciplinary shift to a broader sense of reading strategies and their interrelation” (65).

“In digital environments, hyperreading has become a necessity. It enables a reader quickly to construct landscapes of associated research fields and subfields; it shows  range of possibilities; it identifies texts and passages most relevent to a given query; and it easily juxtaposes many different texts and passages” (66).  scholars use these techniques – we need to teach them to students.

“Hyperattention is useful for its flexibility in switching between different information streams, its quick grasp of the gist of the material, and its ability to move rapidly among and between different kinds of texts” (72).

“The problem, as I see it, lies not in hyperattention/hyperreading as such, but rather in the challenges the situation presents for parents and educators to ensure that deep attention and close reading continue to be vibrant components of our reading cultures and interact synergistically with the kind of Web and hyperreading in which our young people are increasingly immersed” (72).

“Indeed, skimming, scanning, and pattern identification are likely to occur with all three reading strategies; their prevalence in one or another is a matter of scale and emphasis rather than clear-cut boundary” (72).

“The large point is that close, hyper, and machine reading each have distinctive advantages and limitations; nevertheless, they also overlap and can be made to interact synergistically with one another” (75).


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