Human beings are always in a state of non-equilibrium because they live in a given space and time. This given space-and-time is also in the process of mutation. Humans now live not only in their world, but also facing their world.

Citizens are discovering and imagining the world through various readings. These texts give meaning to the signs and symbols that offer readers access to knowledge :

This process of reading generates time for reflection. Its effectiveness depends on several things and several contexts :

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The role of the brain

The human brain is an integrated system comprising 100 billion neuronal and glial connections (synapses). It works as a whole system. The mechanisms allow the citizen to adapt to different circumstances.

To do this, it uses different specialized areas :

Complementary processing of data

The two hemispheres of the brain offer two complementary treatments of the same information (also chapter 5, no 5) :

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In fact, all parts of the brain are necessary to think effectively :

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A tri-partite brain

The human being has a tri-partite brain; one brain that is the result of a triple evolution. It consists of three super-posed components:

The first brain

It is the legacy of our reptilian ancestors. It allows humans to physically react to stimuli.

The second brain

It is the legacy of our mammalian ancestors. It allows humans to respond to the emotional aspects of images-on-screens.

The third brain

It is the legacy of homo sapiens. It helps humans act intelligently.

The brain consists of a set of specialized areas of which the eye is the only gateway to a world that is a constant source of information. Our vision dominates all other senses :

We are predominantly visual creatures.

Below is portrayed the right hemisphere :

In general, reading is carried out using three steps

1- The visual system : sensations

Our visual system does not perceive globally ; our vision is in perpetual motion, constantly exploring the environment. The brain reconstructs the outside world from the evidence received by the eye.

When stimulated, the eye converts the electrical impulses it receives, and then sends environmental stimuli via the visual system (retina, optic nerve, chiasm and geniculate body) to the primary virtual cortex. From there the stimuli are sent to the area where pattern recognition is used. This is the stage of the granulation of reality :

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How to understand what we read
  1. The stimulus of information is captured by the eye (at right in the diagram below) and will join the visuo-sensorial area.
  2. Then fibers transmit the electrochemical signal to the visuo-psychic area where the recognition of the form that has been seen takes place.
  3. The form that has been seen is then transmitted to the region of the curved fold and extracts/obtains its meaning.
  4. From there to the area of Wernicke where the meaning that has been read is transmitted in to meaning that is understood.
  5. Finally, the whole arrives at the area of Broca where the form heard (the word) will awaken the motor command of that word :

2- The limbic system : emotions

At the base of the brain, the system includes several glands that are linked to emotion and motivation, and thus vigilance and attention.

It is these capabilities that focus the brain, so that it decides whether specific information will be taken into account.

The picture below illustrates the connections between the visual system (the retina, optic nerve, etc.) and the limbic system :

This system is also linked to the management of stress (the adaptation of the organism to various situations). It consists of :

  • the hypothalamus, which is involved in emotion and therefore linked to stress (adrenaline) ;
  • the amygdala, which is involved in the establishment of social bonds (the approach behaviors and friendship, in particular) ;
  • the thalamus unites the various information received from the senses and is concerned with vigilance ;
  • the hippocampus is linked to the formation of long-term memories. It allows viewing of spatial scenes, thus consolidating cognitive maps (which allows us to imagine the future). It is the hippocampus which will send stimuli to specialized areas of the cortex.

Short-term memory acts as a filter: it retains only a few pieces of information for a few seconds (about 20), before sending them to long-term memory. What the brain sees at this time is very different from the image that has captured the eye early in the process.

The eye sees, but it is the brain that looks and gives meaning to the images.

3- The long memory and prefrontal cortex : decisions

The brain has several associative areas, or areas of memory (semantic, spatial, visual, episodic, etc.) which are interconnected and which compare the data collected with the previously stored information. For example, the associative memory is involved in the ability to match people (a group of more or less 140 people, according to Dunbar) or implicit memory that brings to life the rules adopted by the membership group.

These different memories address the role of the experience of the individual and the culture of its group and its nearby environment. All of these specialized areas make up our working memory. Simultaneously, we also cary out comparison with other auditory stimuli, olfactory or tactile and reactions to the environment.

The locations

There are no zones operating in isolation. There are areas that dominate when the human being makes a gesture. These are areas of association and intentions :

When the brain wants to solve abstract problems, it creates representations by mental imagery. It can reason better when offered schema that encourage a person’s imagination to explore solutions for answers (for insights). This activity is carried out by the associative visual cortex and involves multiple cortical areas.

The whole is then sent to the prefrontal cortex. Thus, for constant feedback, the brain is informed about the results thus allowing it to make a judgment or a decision.

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A comparison of memory capacity :

The four historical stages

Throughout history, four stages of reading symbols (text and images) have been related to the decoding of the environment by humans, thus enabling them to tame nearby physical space. These stages are linked to the organization of knowledge in the cortex of the individual. The stages do not disappear with the arrival of new information, but are superimposed upon it. As a result, today human beings use the sum of the last three steps.

This may sound complex, but it represents the most effective response to the demands offered up by the new society.

Environmental reading (- 50,000 and – 5000 years)

For thousands of years our ancestors have scanned their environments in search of security and food. A thousand years ago this involved reading text scrolls, religious statues with their coded symbols, heraldry of the noble families, the stained glass windows of cathedrals. historic monuments, etc. It was a form of scan in search of « talking » signs related to religions and civic ceremonies

Sequential reading (1500)

The book format appears, with a new linear style of organization that includes paragraphs, chapters, and pagination. It took a hundred years to go from the old way of reading the stylebook (1440-1540). Reading then became sequential, even with the emergence of film and television: sequences, traveling, zoom, etc .:

Hyperlinked reading (1980)

With the Web, a new way of organizing knowledge appears. The reader sees a screen that is maybe linked to another screen, that is linked to another screen, etc. He does not know what to expect.

Immersive reading (2020?)

A form of reading in which the entire human body becomes involved in decoding because it will be totally immersed in information : the atmosphere of environments (3D, virtual reality, or 360-degree dome screens, facades of buildings or public places, etc.) This form of immersion is likely to open a real Pandora’s box :

A support external to human memory

The book, the hard drive and the cloud (see below) are artificial memories that extend the memory of human beings ; they act somehow as technological crutches (chapter 2, no 4). Whenever a new medium has been invented, it has impacted the way the brain works by changing the way neural connections become bound up. Thus, throughout history this brain plasticity has allowed citizens to adapt to the different mutations.

Here are several historical examples of the outsourcing of memory :

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The young brain

Currently, the brains of young digital natives are different, culturally, than the brains of previous generations because of the combined effect of multi-tasking, ubiquitous media (images-screens, interactive hyperlinks), etc. (chapter 7, no 4). Different does not mean superior, but that memory, attention and reading are changed among young people through their daily use of interfaces with knowledge.

Young people are less concerned about being informed as to where to find the information. Social networks nourish the worship-me self-representation sites they use to show others how they wish to be seen (chapter 7, no 10).

Reading on screens

Compared to reading on paper, reading on screens does not make people more stupid (referring to Nicholas G. Carr). Rather, it leads to different ways of processing the information that is being consumed :

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What changes ?

Using a plurality of reading styles is an emergent phenomenon, whereby citizens choose the style that is most personally suitable at any given time :

• Reading the writing (sequential read, especially from 1500)

Reading the writing begins with the arrival of hieroglyphs (-3300), and alphabets (-1200) and in a more organized way with the invention of printing (1400). From the beginning it was for and by the wealthy class (from 5% to 30% of a society depending upon the period).

The two sisters, Auguste Renoir (1889)

Reading was then imposed on all citizens through mass education during start of the industrial era (1700) so as to meet the requirements for skilled labor – reading was necessary to be able understand instructions.

Writing has always been linked to an elite culture,
See the work of Walter J. Ong.

• The playback screen (reading through hyperlinks, from 1980)

This form of reading develops with the arrival of the first computers (main-frames) and the emergence of mainstream television (1960). Then, as the Society of Spectacle evolves with its multitasking, email and personal computers, the ability to read becomes necessary for over 6% of the world population (1980). With the arrival of Internet and Web 2 (1995) and tactile interfaces (tablets and smart phones) (2007)), reading on a screen is now used by more than 25% of the world population.

A lecture at the Royal Institute in London using pictures screens (1860 engraving, with Michael Faraday).

It is carried out in three phases : a scanning (a type of zapping or surfing), then an analysis and finally interaction-and-decision. This is why reading on a screen creates a culture of fragmentation for the reader. It gives meaning to the message by decoding the dynamic image sequences on the screens. It is currently used to access services as well as introduce possibilities for citizen participation in/on social networks. It also enables the development of bottom-up strategies (chapter 7, no 7).

Because reading-on-screens has dramatically multiplied the number of readers (as users of participatory sites such as YouTube), the elites consider the arrival of so many amateurs a sort of « evil eye ». The elites challenge the purported wisdom-of-crowds.

Such resistance is normal in the early stages of using new communications tools and media, especially when driven by the strong current of self-centered customization. However, narcissism or not, a transformation of the cultural landscape is underway (chapter 7, no 10).

A hackathon in an American university.

• The reading of new media entries (immersive reading begins around 2012)

The arrival of smartphones and tablets triggered the use of public interactive displays without keyboards. The symbols are borrowed from oral folk culture. We have begun an experimental phase with smart environments : Visual Big Data, concept mapping, serendipity, long data and the Internet of Things (which then leads us to 3D (the Internet 3, services)).

The first three sectors of development are advertising, gaming and military applications. With 3D, the whole body participates in decoding information (appearance of virtual reality helmets, 360-degree screens, immersive dome sand portable objects).

Three complementary visions of the world (after 2020)

The brain works differently depending on the type of playback. Some cortical areas are more stressed and others less so; for example, during the decision-making process (prefrontal) or the demand for more attention or the emergence of emotions in social networks (limbic system), etc.

That is why the three types of reading (typographical, hyperlinked and metaphorical) are complementary. When their combined impact is considered we can perceive a foundation for a profound cultural transformation which will require developing a new fluidity to the workings of the brain.

The latter will be necessary to tame the complexity of the new emerging company. It marks the transition from a culture that was intended for an elite to a mass culture and then a return to the prevalence of oral culture :

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It also means that this is not the end of the printed word or image but rather its convergence with other media.