In 2020, 112 undergraduate students read one of two short stories through either a digital or printed medium. They then answered a series of multiple-choice questions about the text, intended to determine the reader’s comprehension of the text. The results of the study proved that overall, there was a higher level of comprehension in the printed book as opposed to the digital medium. The researchers referenced a proposed ‘screen inferiority effect’, that digital material is more difficult to comprehend opposed to physical material.

This screen inferiority effect has multiple implications for a culture. If we consume more digital content than physical content, is our national comprehension less than if we consumed more physical content than digital content? Presumably so. There are simple things that impact how we process information that is often unquantifiable as each person has their own unique approach to consuming literature.

So, how does one conclude if technology has benefitted or decreased our overall comprehension or understanding of content?

Perhaps the work of media theorists Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman can inform us. Marshall McLuhan was famously quoted as saying “the medium is the message”, meaning that a verbal medium has a different meaning from a written medium. Each medium appeals to a different part of the person and invokes different senses and understanding in people. Everything is a medium, and each medium is interpreted differently. Each medium teaches us how to think.

Some mediums convey information better than others, and Postman worries that when mediums, such as television, merge information and entertainment, it becomes a competition of showmanship rather than the pursuit of factual truth. Postman was worried about the attention we pay to mediums that merge information and entertainment, as what a culture consumes defines it.

“We do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.”

The remaining portion of my argument is largely perspective driven and an attempt to convince my generation.

The suicide rate for people aged 10 to 24 increased by 56% between 2007 to 2017 and tripled between 2007 to 2017 after years of decline. Suicide has increased among millennials, but Gen Z might be most at risk for mental illness. Depression has skyrocketed along with technology usage. Over-use of social media can cause loneliness, depression, and anxiety. There’s a perpetual longing for interpersonal connection.

This is where my biases come pouring in and where I see what I want to see.

Our generation is incredibly depressed, and I believe the strongest reason to be out of disconnection. People see without ever being seen. And the people that they see, say that they see them without ever seeing them. It’s the artificial that is swapped for the authentic. It’s crushing but accepted as normal.

And there’s no dialogue about it. So, let’s have an authentic conversation, not with me over the intricacies of the interwebs and hidden behind a wall of pixels, but with the authentic people you are surrounded by. Cherish them and celebrate them and their presence. I think that’s the number one thing we can do.

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Youth Voices is an open publishing and social networking platform for youth. The site is organized by teachers with support from the National Writing Project. Opinions expressed by writers are their own.  See more About Youth VoicesTerms of ServicePrivacy Policy.All work on Youth Voices is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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