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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Notes on a Scandal

It has come to my attention that we indeed all need heroes. This is a bit of a dilemma in today’s day and age when heroes as a rule tend to be of the human (and not supernatural variety). The problem with human heroes is that although they are in general, awesome, they are ineed human nonetheless and as a result will screw up at one point or another.

I remember my father sitting me down one day when I was a kid and advising me against having a hero.

“They will all eventually disappoint you.” He regretfully informed.

I chalked this advice up to the cyncism that comes with age and did indeed fail to head his call.

My first hero on record was Olivia Newton John. Please do not judge. I have widened my scope since then. In my defense it was 1978 and she could seriously rock a pair of leather leggings. Plus the woman could sing. I was an impressionable 7 year old and this woman had me at “How’s it going, Stud.”

As I moved through my teenage years and learned about the world around me, my hero worship broadened and matured. First came Judy Blume and then JD Salinger. Then there was Marilyn French and Gloria Steinem. My heroes were writers, so it seems; people who could put pen to paper and later font to Word Perfect and state in Time New Roman what I was thinking, feeling and hoping about the world around me.

I was raised a reader. Every night before bed and even well after lights out my 8, 10, 18 year old self was reading something, anything. Books to me were like food- sometimes the subject was nutritious and soul nourishing other times it was pizza. From Catch 22 to Catcher in the Rye to a Danielle Steele novel, I read it all.

Then came University and Medical School and my academic pursuits made reading an occupational requirement. I still read for pleasure but often when my eyes hit a book before bed, I could barely keep them open and months would go by before I finished any novel of substance.

When I finished my residency there was work to be done and reading for leisure seemed like an indulgence I could not afford.

And then I took up running.

When you run by yourself for hours in a week, there is only so much music you can listen to. My beloved does not even run with music; preferring to hear the voice in his head over an iTunes playlist.

Considering the voice in my head is that of an overcharged 40-something with varied issues from fashion to function, I prefer any musical interlude to drown out the “barking dogs”.

And so I discovered the practice of books on tape. During training season, I can easily exercise for 15-20 hours a week. This allows me to read/listen to 2 books a week.

But it turns out this form of literature is not for everyone. Indeed like anything, we all have an opinion about the form a book should take.

A few years back my beloved bought me one of those Electronic Readers. I spent five minutes with it and took it back to the store. If I could not turn the page or bend the spine I was miserable.

To this day, I still spend an entire week, every week reading the Sunday New York Times. This was a ritual I began two years ago as a New Year’s Resoluiton and it has stood the test of time. I love how the newsprint stains my fingers black. I love the cumbersome nature of folding big sheets of paper back and forth and carrying sections around with me wherever I go.

I love the tactile feel of reading.

That is unless I am running. Then, forget the book…. read it to me instead. A book on tape ignites in me the storytelling of my childhood; the moments when a grown up would sit beside me and open up the world of make believe from the pages of a book.

That and it allows me to multitask like a champion.

What a great world where you can have Malcolm Gladwell read to you from his latest work while you are long dsitance training through Stanley Park?  I can train for the NYC marathon and still finish David and Goliath all in the span of a few Sundays.

When we look at the science behind the written versus the spoken word- it turns out that the brain indeed favours the spoken word. Evolutionarily speaking language was first a verbal form of communication centuries before we wrote things down. IN fact the brain has to combine several centres in order to even read. WE use our visual cortex, our language centres and even certain conceptual and motor centres in order to interpret the written word.

Scientists have shown that the brain goes so far as to visually write down the words it is reading, even though our hands are empty.

The brain treats individual letters like objects and then forms a sort of “Objective landscape” of the written word.

Certainly this is different when being read to but what about an electronic reader? Why did I have no problem with a paper book or an audiobook but I could not stand an electronic one?

According to an article published in Scientific American in April, 2013, my brain is a bit of a snob.

A paper book has limits to its physicality that my brain indeed recognizes. There is a right and left margin, a beginning, middle and end. There are eight corners and I can orient myself to what I am used to.

“Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there's a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.”, (Ferris Jabar, 2013)

Reading on a screen is an entirely different process. IN a 2011 study at the Technion in Israel college students were asked to do half a multiple choice test on paper and the other half on the screen.

When under pressure to read quickly, computer and paper reading were equal. When given the chance to take one’s time, the paper form of reading won out with scores as varied as 10% higher than on the computer screen form of the test.

Psychologists reason that electronic or screen reading limits a person’s desire to do what is called METACOGNITIVE learning regulation. This is a form of learning where essentially the brain plans ahead, sets goals and checks its work.

If you are rushed to read….paper equal computer…. If you can take your time, the goal setting part of your brain has a luxury and that is where paper reading may indeed prevail.

Make no mistake, there are a variety of studies out there to refute this. Further more, I suspect that a generation of kids who were raised to only read electronically will indeed have a different advantage…. But it’s interesting to see such a basic skill as reading evolve over time.

How does this apply to me, my sisters? (afterall, it is all about moi, no?). My brain just won’t adjust to certain new ways. What can I say? I’m old fashioned that way.

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