Tech Can Stifle Language Skills? Duh!


It’s becoming abundantly clear that our technology does not necessarily help us increase our language (and writing) skills or our ability to learn. My fellow writers and communication professionals – and especially parents – should take heed.

Here’s some of the evidence:

Tech Toys

A recent online article in JAMA Pediatrics reported that electronic toys for infants that produce lights, words and songs decreased the quantity and quality of language – as compared to playing with books or such traditional toys as wooden puzzles, shape-sorters and rubber blocks.

One reason: children vocalize less while playing with electronic toys than with books, largely because fewer adult words, conversations, parental responses and content-specific words are used than when playing with traditional toys or books.

“These results add to the large body of evidence supporting the potential benefits of book reading with very young children,” says the report. And “play with traditional toys may result in communicative interactions that are as rich as those that occur during book reading.” The report goes on to say that “play with electronic toys should be discouraged.”


For adults, recalling events in a mystery story was “significantly” worse when readers used a Kindle instead of a paperback, according to a major Europe-wide study about digitization’s impact on the reading experience. Paper readers also reported higher on measures for empathy, immersion and narrative coherence than iPad readers.


Another study found that children who always use search engines may be good at finding information but not very good at remembering it. And by using too much technology, students may not have enough opportunities to use their imagination or to read and think deeply about the material.

Note Taking

And check this out. Something as simple as taking notes on a computer at a lecture or meeting is detrimental to learning, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Princeton and UCLA.  Even when all distractions (Internet) are eliminated, handwritten notes are still dramatically more effective at helping students retain information.  In fact, laptop use for note taking can negatively affect performance on educational assessments.

Why? Computer note taking requires relatively shallow cognitive processing compared to handwriting notes, the report explains. The process of rewording and summarizing information, as handwritten-note takers are likely to do, is more engaging and helps us retain information. In short, we’re using words when we handwrite notes, not just accumulating them.

So, as communicators and literate people, let’s enjoy all the benefits of our remarkable technologies, but let’s not be fooled. “Hands-on” helps us all learn and communicate better – and our children’s future depends on it!


Could your business communications use some language skills? Let’s talk!

2 comments on “Tech Can Stifle Language Skills? Duh!

  1. Good research Don, I trust you can back up these statements of course, you always do. Indeed, our age of communication has not helped us communicate better…or rather, more clearly. More so it has further distracted us. I don’t think the printed word will every disappear; perhaps bibliophiles and avid readers hope not. Holding a physical book or journal is still an experience not entirely replaced by digital reading. And what about eye fatigue related to on-screen reading? I always enjoy your informative posts.

  2. Mary Lynn Halland on

    Regarding note taking: most of us are visual learners. We can “see” in our mind’s eye the notes we took in a lecture, and remember them by where they sit on a page. Not as true with typed notes on a screen.

    Also, while taking notes on a computer seems to make sense, I can’t imagine having the willpower to resist checking my emails or IMing during a lecture.

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