>"digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts."
Indeed and this is why I read: I just don't have the patience for video, much less (shudder) audio. With a book there's no gap between word and image, and the book flows at the speed I want (I can always skip ahead, or linger, or jump back to that previous spot). While a video is forcably linear (not to mention all the buffering, startup delays, and ads).
A tweetstorm requires so much cognitive overhead to follow (since each one is a discrete sentence or two with a large gap to move your eye down to the next one). You have to maintain so much context from the previous tweet while searching for the next one it's hard to actually absorb anything.
Frankly the biggest problem with reading is bingeing. You come up for air hours later with a crick in your neck and wonder where the day went.
Both video as well as audio can have a function but neither of them replaces written text. Video can be useful as an addition to written text in the same way that a practical demonstration adds to a lecture. Audio fills a niche all of its own since you can listen - or half-listen - to it while doing other things. As long as these sources are used in addition to a written original or base document nothing of value is lost. If video is the only source I tend to assume that the narrator does not have that much to say and skip it. If audio is the only source - as often is the case with lectures or panel discussions - I sometimes listen to it while I prepare food or build on the house or do something else which requires partial attention. I might skip back in the audio stream every now and then to catch something which went by half-heard the first time but as this is much more tedious than re-reading a paragraph in a written text the format is not a replacement for it.
For tweetstorms, threadreaderapp.com is a life-saver.
Unless the presenter has an accent I don't hear often, in which case I usually need to slow down quite a bit. Or if they're not a very good presenter, with mumbling or odd pacing or issues like that.
With text I don't have to slow down as much to correct bad spelling/grammar, since I've seen so much of it. You lose any emotion or emphasis but you gain resilience when communicating across cultures.
True, that would be nice to have.
> You can speed up and slow down with '>' and '<', which I find less convenient because it's easier to set the wrong speed.
Really? Given the two options I would rather have relative controls rather than absolute for playback speed. 2.0x with Speaker A might sound like 1.6x with Speaker B, due to their different cadences, accents and mannerisms.
> You can also skip back and forward by 5 seconds with the left and right arrow keys, which is convenient when you're watching at 2x speed and you miss something.
This is definitely available on YouTube by default. Don't know the skip length off the top of my head though, it might be higher or lower.
Regardless of Carr's thesis, Harris quotes two of Carr's comments, without providing additional context, to make his own point. And that point is made through broad quotes from Eric Schmidt, McLuhan (a more hopeful quote actually though Harris doesn't expand on it), Shirkey et al.
My point was simply that although his title was that he has stopped reading, and feels that he is now perhaps unable to read anything with any depth, his text tries to argue a more universal claim.
And I also don't have the patience for audio and video. I'd maybe like audio if I commuted. But I don't. And hard music is better for that, in any case.
Sure, some people of course have physiological restrictions on their reading ability, even if they have 20/20 vision (e.g. dyslexia for reading systems that exhibit that). But it appears to be pretty well attested at this point that reading exploits properties of the early visual system as well as deep-rooted higher level functions like looking for regular convex forms (perhaps for seeking animal tracks). It also may be the case that interpretation of 3D scenes (including for people without stereoscopic vision in their early visual system -- about 15% of the population) is innate while interpretation of 2D images is learned, even (or perhaps especially) moving images. Which would seem to imply that the more you read the faster and more automatic it becomes.
It's not at all clear that a slow reader is any faster at absorbing and integrating/using information picked up in video.
Of course personal tastes come in here too. I'm not claiming one is inherently superior, just claiming there may be deeper integration between the brain and reading than your average third grade teacher is going to consider.
Like any art, the medium matters.
Me, based on what I gain from each experience. Although of course in that case I'm only speaking on the wastefulness of what I do with my own time.
One might say my interest for games may simply have faded, or that I now know what I like and what I don't, and am less tolerant about what I don't like. Maybe.
But yes, it is the same. Long book needs to be read without too much breaks and you need to read long stretches of time at once to really enjoy it. If you are tired from work, which you are unless you are slowly slacking on the job, you have less energy in the evening to absorb something long or difficult.
But I definitely know the urge to drop it, forget about it, and find something else to do. On my most exhausted nights, I'll halfheartedly read a page or two (if I'm lucky) and put the book down.
For example, I feel younger people are able to focus for longer periods of time on reading long form texts, and an older person may benefit more from finding specific sections from a longer work that they may find interesting or useful that they can read.
As you age there is much more repetition in things than you are consuming. Maybe it’s not bad to be filtering out certain repetitions while hopefully not filtering out things that go against any personal biases.
Furthermore, the books I’m interested in reading now I feel require more time, maybe even a year or two, whereas when I was younger I was really interested in reading massive amounts just for the sake of it.
As I'm older, I'm actually able to sit down and appreciate slower-form / long-form RPGs with lots of text that adds the real texture to the graphics--which only really form a symbolic / tactical representation of the world, and the flavors, the smells, all come from text. In many ways, the game mechanics of most games are all the same and the flavor is what sets them apart.
Exile 3: Ruined World for example. (And the two remakes Avernum 1 and 2 series.) Are legendary for their novel length text and story.
When I was a kid, I spent my time playing with character options, trying out new diseases (more diseases = less XP per level--neat idea) and skipping texts to explore. But then I'd always get stuck at some point because I missed a key piece of text when I skimmed
(That's actually one "game sin" I hate in many games. If you're going to have important text buried in tons of flavor text, COLOR or EMPHASISE IT. The last thing you want is a player who gets tired one night, skips ONE line that was important, and then hates your game because they're frustrated without information they should have had.)
This reflexive aversion to interruptions and delays make prolonged focus more difficult. Maybe you don't experience it, but I do, and like the author of this article I notice it most when I try to read a book.
I set myself a habit of 30 minutes each night before bed of reading fiction (because to me it's more pleasurable.)
It's wonderful and I really enjoy losing myself in other characters and their situations. It's not as visceral as movies or TV but a much deeper experience.
It was a big struggle though, but the immersion did get easier with prolonged practice. If I miss a night now I actually feel like I've missed out. I stress that it was a conscious and deliberate effort over several months before it even started to feel natural and effortless again.
There have always been distractions and there always will be. Excusing ourselves as some kind of lost generation is incorrect and not helpful.
This is not a new phenomenon. 2 seconds is already well within the "users/viewers tapering off" band in the Nielsen thresholds. The Nielsen study formulated the usability latencies in early 90's, but the effects of measurable delays have been known at least from the 70's.
The moment you're above 1 second, you're making your users wait for something to happen. Apply power law to get an estimate how many are getting annoyed and giving up.
To make things even worse, keep in mind how horrible the mobile internet latencies are for connection handshakes. It's not impossible to have a base latency of ~700ms for any new connection. That leaves you with no more than 300ms to actually serve the content. And for the mobile device to render it...
If it takes longer than one second from the reset for the data to be shown, the user is again entering the "is this slow or broken?" time band.
The Nielsen thresholds appear to be fundamental to human nature, and I would be surprised if we have somehow managed to teach humanity to be less impatient over the past few decades. If anything, the dopamine-hit fueled online systems have taught the users to expect even more immediate feedback.
No YouTube app, no Twitter/Slack/Email/etc notifications bothering me. No "I'll just go check the news/stocks for a second."
The fact that I have to physically put down the kindle to do anything else but read creates a physical barrier that I can easily recognize and allows me to mentally avoid most interruption.
I read for the reason the author says he can't read. I cannot stand wasting time and I read significantly faster than people speak. For this reason I prefer to read textbooks over watching lectures and I read books instead of watching tv shows. Written news is more accurate and faster to consume than televised news. The only exception I can think of is books that are adapted into movies but that generally comes at the cost of the movie being drastically different from the book.
Reading, and reading books, does not depend on actual paper books. It depends on the level of interest the reader has in doing just that, reading. Someone who reads to kill a dull moment might be easily distracted but that is true whether that person reads from paper or from a screen of some sorts. This was true back when the only option was paper as well, it is just that distraction is easier to come by for those who seek it.
The number seems to be holding steady in the low to mid 70% of the population reading at least one book per year.
Further, the MOST likely readers are 18-29 (as of 2015)
The follow up Pew study in 2016 showed similar trends.
Neat human interest/hot take, I guess? But the reality doesn't seem to match with the author's experience.
My patience for text that is not relevant to the message have definetly gone down.
I find that it is the same with video or really any media. make it concise and keep to the point don't try to impress me with words.
Nothing wrong with listening to podcasts or audiobooks per se, but it's nowhere near reading when it comes to fruitful interaction with a source of information, and to transmission of knowledge. Written/printed/digital text is the biggest, most important invention, ever.
It's so deeply ingrained in me that this is something you do not do that it feels like sacrilege or blasphemy when I see books that are defaced like that. It's not exactly rational, but it's almost impossible to shake at this point. I don't think even my college books have a line of highlighter in them, although there's more than a few sticky notes lurking.
And for all those driving cars they’re also a huge win.
Anyway, relative to what this article is talking about, I feel like what I've lost is my ability to watch movies (and to a lesser extent, tv shows). I think it's largely because I do almost all of my tv/movie consumption on a laptop, and the allure of the Internet is always right there just a browser tab away. I start watching a movie or something on Netflix and 5 minutes later I'm on Hacker News, or somewhere , surfing. Jump back to the movie for 10 minutes, then surf more. Then another 5 minutes on the movie, more surfing, lather, rinse, repeat. It might take me 2+ hours to watch a 45 minute episode of some show, or 3+ hours to watch a movie with a 90 minute runtime.
If I routinely read books as ebooks, on my computer, I suspect this same phenomenon would creep in with reading as well. But I still read a lot of offline, dead-tree books, which takes me away from the digital world for a while. I also do a lot of reading dead-tree books while soaking in the bathtub, so no laptop there - although my phone or sometimes a tablet is often within reach. I typically only grab that to update my Goodreads account though.
But neat irony aside, I suppose he does have a point. My reading skills and general focusing is on the mend again after I ditched almost all social media and most of the general newsstream.
I have been into tech ever since I was born, and I have read 5 books in the past 5 weeks... wish I had more time to read more of them... so much to learn.
Spending too much time on a tablet before I read a book does certainly distract from my reading, however.
I tried to swipe up a page in a physical book the other day that really bothered me on a surprisingly deep level, so I have just decided to put the tablet down more often.
I despise the idea of tech consuming my life, as confusing as that is considering I willingly and enthusiastically spend 24 hours of my day completely immersed in it.
Perhaps I am an outlier because I know of the trials and tribulations that too much screen-in-face-time (or whatever you want to call it) can cause first hand.
What are you reading? It sounds like a self-help book or something pretty easily digestible with a definite goal. I think (emphasis on 'think') that the author is referring more to novels or open-ended content that don't have a point. Less a manual more a story.
The history of economics, actually!
Hobbit? No, thank you.
Today, after decade of doing 99.9% of my reading on the internet I have even less patience for boring reads.
But if I find something like "Matter" by Iain M Banks or "A fire upon the deep" by Vernor Vinge you couldn't part me with my book even by using a crowbar.
So I don't think we forgot how to read. We just forgot how and why should we force ourselves to actively suffer boredom.
However, thanks to technology now I enjoy books in audiobook format. I spend about an hour every day commuting with an audiobook, and I have discovered that I have good patience for good authors even in academic topics, like political economy. On the other hand, I miss paper books those times when I have to plow through/listen to particularly dreary fragments of a book ... with paper I would skip those so easily ...
Of course, to understand what I say one would have to read the book, and it may be too late to be able to do that :)
Aside - this is good stuff, I find myself in this 'mode' all the time. I used to read 100+ books a year, now it is like 5. But, I read all the time ...
Reading is highly nonlinear using a parallel perception/cognition pipeline. Losing that skill for us technical folk is sad. Sure work involves analytical thinking but it's typically slower paced and rarely nonlinear to any degree. Day day is fairly rote.
I read on sites like this in an information gathering mode, skimming, searching, for something worthwhile...
I read a book, like I've always read a book, slowly, and without interruption.
I read research (i care about) with a highlighter and a pen.
You don't have to forget.
I began reading "books" again in 2010, after a 10 year lapse of mostly not reading books.
At first, the best I could do was 15 books a year. It took me three years before I "leveled up" to "80 books a year."
Technology isn't the enemy here. Attention span is.
How creators and consumers of applications, websites, and content USE technology is the problem.
Many consumers spend zero time thinking about the outcome of their technology use. Too many creators spend all their time thinking about only ONE outcome of their technology use.
When someone identifies a problem, it's easy to blame "technology" and not the market and social pressures that created it. If people have "forgotten to read" it's their fault, not Instagram's.
I read a lot and while I strongly disagree with your comment that books are less interesting than they used to be I will say that finding good books is very hard once you have read all the well regarded, widely recommended classics.
I often try reading new releases and New York Times best sellers and they often leave me frustrated because they are never as good as people hype them to be.
One recent example that I read was called "The Traitor Baru Cormorant" where I actually skipped closed to 60 pages of the book near the end and still managed to finish it without missing any plot related details. That book has a 4/5 on goodreads...
Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite authors, and he wrote a book set in a new setting called "Revenger" that was just amazing, and I loved the world. But I finished the book and there are no more and it bums me out :/
But even the best book has bad chapters.
I still enjoy some books, but not anywhere like I used to.
An example: on my free days I tend to stay up late and get up late, and when I wake up I tend to check some funny/interesting subreddits, losing lots of time. But knowing also that reddit is very useful at times, I remove the app from the phone, and restrict the subs I'm subscribed to to ones that are useful. I see that I'm checking my email too much on my phone when I'm bored, I remove the mail app for some days. All notifications except calls are silenced on my phone. I don't use any social media, except Reddit and HN, if we count them as such (reddit is definitely trying to be, which is annoying, but you can have your niche still). These are my solutions. Each and every life has many problems, and we try to fix them. Introspect, reflect, decide, do. No shortcuts there.
First, I think you confuse "clickbait" with creative title. Articles are not meant to have literal titles, and they have had metaphorical or poetic or puns or otherwise creative titles since before there were clicks to "bait for" -- including articles that were deep inside some magazine and not mentioned on the cover to attract attention. Writers and editors simply like to be creative like that.
Second, there's nothing wrong with this title. The situation they describe can very correctly be summed as "I forgot how to read" -- or even expanded to "we forgotten how to read". Forgetting how doesn't mean "being unable to" -- it just means forgetting how to read properly, or if you want, the "old way".
Heck, even a title like "I can't read anymore" would have been quite apt to describe such a situation. One would have to presume a very simplistic and imaginative audience to feel the need to spell it out more, to the point of the title being a simple literal description "Modern online media consumption has made my reading of books erratic".
>Valid concerns these are, but easily dealt with: reflect on your usage, uninstall the app, delete the account, make a decision and apply it to your life
That's like saying that we can end obesity easily if people just eat less. Or end violence if we make a decision to be nice to each other. In other words, it takes a complex issue, with many variables, and factors (from the pressures of modern life to changing ways of media consumption) and makes it into some character flaw or lack of discipline issue one can "easily" overcome.
Obesity is a state, not a disease (there are some diseases that can cause obesity, but by and large it's due to diet for most people).
Perhaps you have forgotten how to read much as the author of this piece claims they themselves did. Perhaps I have as well, when I reflect upon the magic of human language.