I came across this insightful article by Michael Harris the other day: I have forgotten how to read. I found myself nodding my head and saying, “Yep, I’ve done that. Yep, my nephews are like that…” Wait. Have I forgotten how to read, too?
The article talks about the “old” book-oriented style of reading vs. the screen-oriented (computer, tablet, e-reader) style of reading and the impact online reading has had on not just the WAY we read, but HOW we read. It this day of instant gratification and ever shortening attention spans, the ability to read DEEPLY, to get LOST in what we are reading seems to be diminishing.
As a reader, I agree 100% with the premise of Michael’s article. Especially in the last year or two, I find myself easily distracted when I’m trying to absorb a piece of non-fiction, whether online or in print. This doesn’t happen as much with fiction, unless it’s very badly written—in which case I’ll stop reading it altogether. With all that’s happening in the world today, I long to ESCAPE into a good fiction novel. I hope I never lose that gift of immersing myself in a great story and losing all sense of what is happening around me.
As a writer, I worry that if readers are truly forgetting HOW to read deeply, what impact will that have on the quality and size of readership (both mine and in general) over the next decade or so? As Michael notes, will writers become more and more cynical in their writing in their desire for more shares, clicks, likes and comments? “The words I write now filter through a new set of criteria. Do they grab; do they anger? Can this be read without care? Are the sentences brief enough? And the thoughts?” The cynical reader will translate into a cynical writer and vice versa.
Read Michael’s article for yourself. In the meantime, I’m going to write another chapter in my latest book. Personally, I can’t read someone else’s fiction while working on my own. Too much distraction.