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Reading in the age of digital distraction

Ziming Liu (School of Information, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 28 December 2021

Issue publication date: 4 October 2022




Digital distraction is a common phenomenon in e-reading contexts, and it is worth exploring in depth from the perspectives of information (digital content), users (readers) and technology (digital reading medium). Since screen reading has close links with multitasking and potential distraction, any investigation of reading in the digital environment must factor in this reality. This paper aims to investigate the extent and effects of digital distraction while reading on screens. Special emphases go to exploring multitasking while reading.


Survey and analysis methods are employed.


The extent of digital distraction among college students it found is alarming. All the top four sources of distraction are communication-based activities. Female students tend to concentrate more than males when they read on screens. An overwhelming majority of participants choose to read in print to reduce distractions and to concentrate effectively. Screen reading is inherently distracting, primarily due to multitasking. It appears that repeated multitasking during academic endeavors carries substantial costs.


Implications of digital distraction are discussed, and directions of future research are suggested.



The author appreciates constructive comments from the anonymous referees. The author also acknowledges the research support from the College of Professional and Global Education, San Jose State University.


Liu, Z. (2022), "Reading in the age of digital distraction", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 78 No. 6, pp. 1201-1212.



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