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Views & Reviews Personal View

Put down your smartphone and pick up a book

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 08 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4521
  1. Martin J Tobin, editor emeritus, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and professor of medicine, division of pulmonary and critical care medicine, Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital, and Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Hines, Illinois 60141
  1. mtobin2{at}

Good clinical decision making requires in depth knowledge that comes from reading information in books rather than on screens, writes Martin J Tobin

Bertrand Russell grumbled in 1924 that “it is impossible to read in America, except on a train, because of the telephone.”1 He continued, “Everyone has a telephone, and it rings all day and most of the night.” Given the ubiquity of distractions today, a landline seems almost Arcadian.

As we ponder a difficult passage while reading online, our mind wanders to check our email, or the news, or to buy something new. Rather than being deeply engaged with the written word, we are seduced by the false promise of multitasking. For the first time, distractions have become an integral part of the experience of reading.

Online reading involves a different form of literacy than that of the printed page. The eyes bounce and flicker as they dart promiscuously, searching for nuggets of information and quick wins. It is almost as if people go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.2 The instant presentation of expansive information threatens the more demanding task of the formation …

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