, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 705–720 | Cite as

Screen reading and the creation of new cognitive ecologies

  • Robert W. ClowesEmail author
Original Article


It has been widely argued that digital technologies are transforming the nature of reading, and with it, our brains and a wide range of our cognitive capabilities. In this article, we begin by discussing the new analytical category of deep-reading and whether it is really on the decline. We analyse deep reading and its grounding in brain reorganization, based upon Michael Anderson’s Massive Redeployment hypothesis and Dehaene’s Neuronal Recycling which both help us to theorize how the capacities of brains are transformed by acquisition of new skills. We examine some of the difficulties in comparing reading using technologies such as the web-browser, the tablet and E-Reader, with reading using the pre-existing print culture. While learning to read undoubtedly changes the brain, we examine what evidence there is for this being tightly tied to particular material substrates and find this lacking. Instead we attempt to situate cognitive changes around the new reading within the context of the specific new cognitive ecologies incorporating both screen and page. This involves a reconsideration of the role of material culture in the cognitive abilities.


Encultured brains Cognitive artifacts Cognitive values Neural recycling Massive redeployment Deep reading Cultural/technological systems Cognitive ecology 



This production of this paper was funded by a grant from Fundação para a Ciencia e a Technologia (FCT) for the project: Virtualism and the Mind: Rethinking Presence, Representation and Self:—(SFRH/BPD/70440/2010). ​I want to thank Richard Heersmink for his detailed and pertinent comments, along with the comments of an anonymous reviewer which have much improved this paper. I also want to thank Paul Smart for some useful discussions about cognitive ecology. This paper is based upon an earlier conference paper presented at the Barcelona conference on social intelligence which is archived at The work also benefitted from presentation in several drafts to the Lisbon Mind & Reasoning Group and also as part of a workshop on values for IFILNOVA and to the COGS group at the University of Sussex.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lisbon Mind & Reasoning Group, ArgLab, IFILNOVA, FCSHUniversidade Nova de LisboaLisbonPortugal

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