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The Role Of Reading In The Age Of Constant Digital Distraction
While some people still entertain themselves with the predictable mudfight of “ebook vs paper book”, I find another question far more interesting, namely the role of reading in the age of continuous partial attention. How do we read in the 21st century? What do we read? Or do we read, at all?
As Seth Godin wrote in a recent blogpost:
One of the very real truths of our culture is being hidden in the dramatic shift from paper to ebook–lots of people are moving from paper to ‘no ebook’.
For example, I have to admit that sometimes the Internet makes me crazy. It’s just too fast, too much, too random sometimes. I found out that reading can be the perfect antidote to the darker sides of the “always online” state where the horrors of multitasking, procrastination and twitchy eyelids reside.
Reading seems to counter many of the negative behaviors that come with daily Internet use: they make you slow down and use your imagination, they allow you to experience psychological realities not from an outer but from an inner perspective.
As much as I love the Internet and its infinite amounts of awesome, inspiring, informative, (insert adjective) content, I notice that the more I consume of it, the less I seem to be able to value.
Therefore: the more I use the Internet, the more books I need to read.
(If I don’t get to read my daily portion, I don’t want to know what happens.)
Reading good books (mostly novels that are mentally and emotionally challenging, not just “entertaining”) I seem to be able to retrieve some of that focus lost on the bottom of the first graph.
sidenote: I don’t always use graphs, but when I do, they make total and immediate sense without being contrived in any way, shape or form. *load sarcasm module*
But enough with my own pseudo-scientific observations for now.
Publishing In The Age Of Immediate Gratification
I had this idea a while ago that if I’m beginning to see my attention span being altered by daily torrents of online information (especially the “social media” stuff) I’m probably not the only one.
Then I saw that a lot of people were complaining about overpriced ebooks.
So I put two and two together and starting building “books” that were geared at small wallets and short attention spans. And, surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly they sold very well and still go like hotcakes.
I put “books” in quotes because I’m not even sure they are really books. I look at them more in terms of the old Marshall McLuhanism of “the book is an information service.” The publications in questions are little information snacks that can be consumed in 5-10 minutes, complete with some experimental illustrations and not more than necessary text.
If a novel by Thomas Mann is a full-fledged three course dinner, for example, these mini-books (not sure that is a better term) are like a sandwiches in between two meetings or changing trains.
The idea here is not to downgrade quality in favor of quick consumption, rather to shorten its quantity to allow people with increasingly limited amounts of time and attention spans, to read them in the first place.
img credit: Some rights reserved by TangYauHoong