January 23, 2013 10:49 pm

Paper reading is the antidote

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Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher©Corbis

McLuhan: intellectual giant

From Mr Joseph F. Foyle.

Sir, In vain have I been waiting for comments on the highly important April Dembosky full-page article “Cerebral circuitry” (Analysis, January 4). It neatly summarised what various specialists say about the effects on people of the massive internet use that, for study, work and pleasure, is now pervasive.

Billions – particularly young people – have, for many years, unwittingly been guinea pigs in a global experiment. The outcome was unknown to those who initiated it.

Ms Dembosky tells us: “Researchers concluded that ‘long-term internet addiction would result in brain structural alterations’, contributing to chronic dysfunction.” That is alarming. More alarming still is the current cluelessness in relation to a solution. She goes on: “The treatment for this emerging condition is tricky. Cutting internet use is not like giving up alcohol or gambling. The internet has become such an integral part of work and life, it is impossible to avoid. Addicts must learn how to reframe their daily habits and to moderate their use in an ever-connected world.”

Nothing was said about a “how”. Yet, I have been popularising such a “how” for more than 40 years, thanks to the insights of Marshall McLuhan.

That Irish-Canadian intellectual giant pioneered the study of the effects of the television technology that preceded the internet. I worked with him in the 1970s after I had noticed these words in his 1964 book Understanding Media: “To resist TV, therefore, one must acquire the antidote of related media like print.”

The fact is that many now function well despite television, the internet and other forms of what may be called “pixel reading” because, daily, they also use their eyes enough for what may be called “paper reading”. That “enough” is the “how” solution.

It is true that many people’s eyes are so adversely affected by “pixel reading” that their minds find it difficult – or extremely difficult – to sustain enough “paper reading”. But things can be done to rectify that quickly.

Publishers of books, newspapers, periodicals and magazines have an obvious, huge vested interest in propagating global awareness of this. It is unfortunate that Ms Dembosky’s article implied that we do not have a solution for the alarming “chronic dysfunction” that is an “emerging condition” everywhere.

Joseph F. Foyle, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, Ireland

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