Notes from “Letter One: Reading, the Canary in the Mind”

From Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf 📚

Summary: we need to look closely at how different mediums impact the acquisition and maintenance of the reading brain.

Like Kurt Vonnegut’s artist-as-canary-in-the-coal-mine, Wolf argues that the reading brain (i.e. deep reading) is the canary in the coal mine of our brain. If we compromise our ability to be contemplative, we lose the facility to think, collaborate, and create at the highest level individually, and as a culture.

The deluge of digital information around us is shallowing our reading; this fools us into believing that we’re thinking when we are not (at least at the same level).


“Systematically examine - cognitively, linguistically, physiologically, and emotionally - the impact of various mediums on the acquisition and maintenance of the reading brain is the best preparation for ensuring the preservation of our most critical capacities.”

“In a milieu that continuously confronts us with a glut of information, the threat temptation for many is to retreat to familiar silos of easily digestible, less dense, less intellectually demanding information. The illusion of being informed by a default deluge of eye-byte-sized information can trump the critical analysis of our complex realities.”

“Kurt Vonnegut compared the role of the artist to that of the canary isn’t he coal mines: both alert us to the presence of danger. The reading brain is the canary in our minds. We would be the worst of fools to ignore what it has to teach us.”

“I will suggest that the future of the human species can best sustain and pass on the highest forms of our collective intelligence, compassion, and wisdom, by nurturing and protecting the contemplative dimension of the reading brain."

Keven Elliff @keven