Translation: I stopped reading novels and then found it difficult to start again.
The problem isn’t the fluff we read online. The problem is that when you go long periods without reading novels, it’s harder to pick up a novel and enjoy it. Reading fluff online doesn’t make you stop reading novels, though, any more than watching TV makes you stop reading novels. It’s entirely possible to do both, with the caveat that everyone’s time is limited. But there’s nothing about browsing online that intrinsically makes it hard to read novels.
To help avoid this situation I've made it part of my morning routine to read for 15 minutes every morning (keeps the world/story alive in my head) and if I don't pick up a book for 7 days I move on to another book.
Using this method I'm at 27 books for the year and I've moved on from 2.
This is a Quote from the LadyChatterley’sLover Trial in the 60's
Seriously, that's why I read so few books - it's like jumping on a long-haul express train, when I really need to get off in 30 minutes to do all that I need to do. But nooooooooo.
I'm very thankful to authors that have chapters with a small sense of closure, it somewhat alleviates the problem.
The last book I read was "To Say Nothing Of The Dog" by Connie Willis - a great sci-fi - and it had this property, along with a brief summary of the chapter preceding it (a summary that somehow was not a spoiler!), in the style of "Three Men In A Boat (to say nothing of the dog)" -- yet another great brook that inspired this one.
It really helped me to put it down and go to bed at night, and I wish other authors followed suit.
It also does mean a lot of late nights.
Perhaps as a result of this I am a very fast reader. My former housemate would lend me novels to read sometimes and would be astonished when I'd return them to him a few hours later read.
As soon as I was done, I read Les Miserables, then Player of Games by Ian Banks, then few (2-3) other sci fi novels that I don't specifically remember, and then a bunch of random stuff.
I loved it all. I will grant that this is possibly because I had been denying myself that pleasure in order to focus on the grueling pursuit of law school, and that I had wanted to be reading novels the whole time.
I am not convinced that the problem is only going long periods of time without. I have done that. My wife did the same when she went to law school. Maybe that's part of it, but I would guess that training your brain on fluff for that period of time is not an insignificant part of it.
First, the issue isn't that what's being read is "fluff", but rather that online reading promotes that "grafted, spasmodic" style of attention.
Second, you're completely wrong that the media formats we consume don't affect the other media formats we consume.
Provide some evidence for this claim. People have been decrying the short attention span that “new media” creates for as long as there has been anything that could be described as “new media”.
This is exactly what Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf (i.e., the book being reviewed here) does.
There are some alternative theories linking deep immersive reading and short sporadic reading to different parts of the brain. Spending significant time online does seem to lead to shorter attention spans.
Can't it be both? If our brains adapt based on the way we consume information, wouldn't it make sense that both abstinence from reading novels and reading through a drastically different medium would potentially degrade performance in reading novels?
I don’t see much evidence that consuming fluff significantly impacts our ability to consume material with depth. With the exception that they are competing for time.
I'm not a neuroscientist, I just don't think it makes sense to say "well that can't be true because not reading novels for a while also makes you worse at reading novels". Identifying an additional cause for a given symptom doesn't disprove the validity of all other causes.
You can find plenty of people saying “I stopped reading books because of [X,Y, or Z] and now it’s harder to read books”. But the common thread there is not X, Y, or Z. It’s “I stopped reading books”.
The idea that “adaptation” to one type of reading makes other types of reading harder doesn’t sound unreasonable but that doesn’t mean it’s actually true. Adaptation to running doesn’t exactly make walking harder.
This is all I'm saying. Neuroplasticity is fairly well-documented and the author's theory seems plausible based on what we know about it.
> You can find plenty of people saying “I stopped reading books because of [X,Y, or Z] and now it’s harder to read books”.
Unless those people are all living off the grid, they were also reading through different mediums during the time that they weren't reading books. Again, seems reasonable that both have an impact, but you can hardly claim this as evidence for your theory and reject it as evidence for the author's theory given that both suggested factors were imposed simultaneously.
If so, how do you establish causal effect for some other action coupled with no longer reading books? Literally any action coupled with “I don’t read books anymore” will lead to “its hard to read books now”. The secondary action could be “I read Twitter” or “I got married” or “I lost 50 pounds”. It doesn’t matter because the condition for “hard to read books” is already met. This “X and Y implies Z” is a common pattern for falsely attributing effect Z of X to Y.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “I still read books an hour every night, but it’s really hard now that I also read Twitter.“ I have heard plenty of people say “it’s hard to read books now that I stopped actually reading them consistently for reason X.”
Maybe reading fluff online is a factor, but it’s probably a pretty small factor relative to the fact that you’re allowing a skill to atrophy when you don’t use it.
Also, even if correct, you didn't address the risk factors involved that may cause "go long periods without reading novels".
It's intuitively attractive (but I'm not going to research the research right now) to presume that "junk" content -- stuff that provides immediate stimulatio (be they pictures, sounds, foods, or text) that are highly stimulating in a small package have a tendency to crowd out slower-stimulating content.
But you’re right that I didn’t present evidence. I don’t think this subject has been meaningfully studied. So what I presented was an argument for why concentrating on “sporadic reading” is missing the forest for the trees. People used to say that TV resulted in a decline in reading. Now they say that reading crap results in a decline in ability to read books. If you want to be good at reading books, then read books and stop worrying about the other stuff. Reading crap on Twitter might make you a worse book reader, or a worse runner, or a worse painter, or a worse whatever. Practicing the skill you supposedly care about will do a lot more than giving up Twitter, regardless.
> It's intuitively attractive...
Intuition is the road to junk science. Don’t rely on intuition if you cannot support it with data or logic.
Radio has contributed to our ‘growing lack of attention.’ .?.?. This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again. We have become a short story reading people, or, worse than that, a QUICK reading people. ~Bradbury
[Edit] Punctuation & typos.
Maybe if I had read it I would understand the importance of having an attention long enough to finish the book. Thing is if I had that attention span the lesson would be lost on me since I'm already reading the book.
In other words, a book teaching the importance of reading books is teaching a pointless lesson.
So in this hyper digital world it feels like we have less time. Even though time remains the same. There is always something seeking our attention and for the most part it is unimportant but we can't ignore it.
It's something I'm trying to work on because there's obviously immense value in books and long-form reads (and a lot you get out of them that you can't get out of little snippets and quick articles).
The only reason that HN and Reddit interfere with my ability to read books is because they both compete for the same ~100 waking hours each week that I don’t spend at work. If I don’t read any novels for a few months it’s hard to pick one up and actually get through it. If I just finished reading three books in the Dresden Files or Vorkosigan Saga, picking up book #4 is a no-brainer and with Kindle it’s easy to slip into the habit of binge-reading. Like, I’m halfway through the book but if I call in late tomorrow I can probably finish the book tonight. And then a couple months later, if I haven’t been reading books, book #5 can seem like a total chore.
I have huge problems with the latter, but that's just because I hate fluff, and most of those articles are 10% content and 90% offtopic musings about boring things (like life stories and emotions of people tangentially related to the main theme). Wanting a piece to "get to the point already" is healthy IMO, as it's a natural defense mechanism against wasting time.
There is an invalid assumption that I believe underlies a lot of those "kids these days have no attention span" observations - that all content is automatically deserving to be consumed. It's not. On the contrary, most content is pure waste of time. Given how limited our lives are, and how flooded the world is with content these days, being extremely selective and intolerant of bullshit is the right, healthy thing to do.
The worst problem I have with them is the structure. It is bait and switch, structured a bit like US TV Shows:
"Coming Next - you will learn the extraordinary conclusion X reached", but first let's go back 20 years to X formative years. Back to the present, X started working on Y where he made his huge discovery, but before talking about it let me give some context. And now you know why it is important, and X has been taking an original approach, to really understand how original, let me explain you all the other approaches first, except I won't explain any of those fully, just jump back and forth from one to the other, not necessarily in chronological order, just to build some sort of bullshit tension leading up to ... the sister of X explaining what she thinks of X and now we are back 40 year to learn about X grand parent living in the rigour of communist somewhere would create the core family value X is the present culmination of ...
You can't even reach directly to the end because the conclusion it is wrapped in pages of semi-intellectual musing.
edit: Make me think also of the semi-intellectual vocabulary. Nothing should be said clearly. X didn't have a dog, he "had a canine confident that contrasted with the rest of the family which was generally more attracted to the feline order"
I'm curious. Is your difficulty reading long form in paper form, or on a device? Have you tried reading actual paper (or even an ebook that is not "connected")?
When I switch to physical paper, it's almost as if my brain goes into a different mode.
Is there? Or are you just saying that because it's expected and you'd feel embarrassed if you said otherwise?
Humans are pattern matchers, what if we see patterns more easily from many examples, rather than one? What if we extract patterns more easily seeing them from many points of view instead of just one author?
Is a neural network better trained on one high detail photo, or a dataset of many photos?
Nobody kills to take control of a library.
At best you could say people get into massive debt for education. But at the same time, education is clamouring for online courses, videos, conferencing, teachers, interaction, and textbooks are widely considered a problem - low priority, low quality, a racket, going back years since Richard Feynman's famous story about reviewing them at least.
Books, especially academic books, are increasingly given away for free online - when people will pay for entertainment.
How many people learn from a teacher, a course, or learn by doing, vs how many actually learn from books?
People don't treat books the way they treat things they value. There may be immense value in books, it's not "obvious".
In my experience, yes. Some of the best & most memorable stuff I've read were in books both novels and non-fiction.
Earlier this year, I quit my core social media (FB, Twitter), and focused on reading real books, which was wonderful. I got in the habit of putting books that could be read in small doses on my phone's Kindle app for small breaks like walking or bathroom breaks.
Then I let myself have FB and Twitter on the phone again, because I "needed" them for something or other, and I was right back to the Likes addiction and wasting time. Then one day I realized I hadn't read a book all day, I was just checking FB. So the apps are removed from the phone again.
But yeah, reading books - especially difficult books - is such a different experience from social media, that reading social media actively interferes with at least my own ability to read them. Then again, I have a taste for pretty heavy books.
Side note: a result is that I tend to stick to no-BS sources and since there aren't that many, I invariably lose some diversity of thought. Sigh.
Books are still great though! All my love to the public library.
Most of the text out there is just not good quality that deserves or rewards deep reading.
My pet theory is that the rampant skimming or "shallow reading" is basically the brain performing a hidden Bayesian probability that any random text put in front of us isn't worth the effort of deep reading. This is why many of us go to HN comments first instead of reading the actual article. The Bayesian priors told us that the "tldr" in the comments got to the point where the article all-too-often had a self-indulgent author that meandered all over the place and wasted our time. Therefore, "shallow reading" isn't bad for us... it's our way of optimizing against "information overload".
Even college professors who are used to heavy reading workloads skim new work. I'd argue this is another manifestation of Bayesian priors.
To back to my C Language example. I didn't really learn C by reading those binders cover to cover. (Deep reading.) I really learned it when I did shallow reading across fragmented sources like USENET comp.lang.c forum and playing around with toy programs. So maybe deep reading isn't the answer but the attention restriction from not being distracted with Twitter and Instagram notifications. In other words, maybe we're conflating benefits "uninterrupted study" with "deep reading".
Now I'm a bit ashamed haha.
Anyway, I've read her book, and have to admit that I skim quite a bit. Her writing style is deep and informative, but with a lot of literary allusions. I found my knowledge and life experience is still inadequate to understand everything she wrote. Overall an interesting read though!
I apologize that you found my text length was too long but I thought the extra background was necessary to state why deep reading is often a waste of time.
If I only state a 1 sentence punchline in my original post, it can seem like a cheap hit-and-run comment and therefore not really engaging with the article's arguments. (Or the extreme brevity would just invite snark such as "you probably don't have deep reading skill". Therefore, a writer's reflex is to defensively preempt that with extra words that try to establish street cred.)
I thought it would be interesting to share that many of us can do "deep reading" and yet we don't bother with the effort -- and that behavior is not a contradiction. Instead, it's an optimization of limited reading time. This tradeoff doesn't seem to be reflected in Maryanne Wolf's research.
>She didn’t mention that you can check other shorter sources before you commit to reading,
I actually did and I specifically used "HN comments" as an example of readers trying to find a tldr summary and why it's a rational strategy.
I read @EGreg as poking a bit of fun, rather than raising a legitimate complaint: simultaneously supporting your point, but also gently pushing at the limits of shallow reading.
Part of that joke was that I probably got your gender wrong while summarizing, and I made it like I missed what you said about the “HN contents” because I skimmed too fast before I summarized in my own comment.
Kind of meta that the comments which we may look to, before reading the article, may themselves have skimmed it and missed the point!
To make the joke more obvious I also replied to my own comment!
I've never been a fan of this line of thinking. There are plenty of people who use critical thinking skills and participate in mentally stimulating activities throughout the day. When it's over, they just want to relax. So they watch shows like Family Guy, read basic action novels, or play Grand Theft Auto for an hour or two.
Why does everything have to be in pursuit of knowledge or something that contributes to a community?
I think it's fair to say the vast majority of popular media belongs in classes 1 or 3. To deride such fare as "tripe" isn't unfair. Tripe has utility too. It's just bowel meat.
But I see what you mean - there is a time and a place for anything.
I thought I'd call out that the author is not a scientist and that her "neuroscience" is a soft science like political science or social science. The author has a degree in Literature and not in Psychology or any biological sciences.
Also, most of that 34 gb is probably video anyway, in which case we may as well say the ancients consumed many gb of information per day in the form of looking at the world around them.
Granted my eye averages/summarized the pixels and my brain ignored a lot of the content (i.e. I don't notice the clock ticking in the corner while the hero is fighting the bad guy), yet still an argument could be made that that's the amount of data I'm exposed to while watching an hour HD movie through my HD display.
Even without knowing anything semantic, compression algorithms can squeeze text down to much fewer bits. And both of our minds together have a shared dictionary of concepts and thoughts gzip doesn't have access to. The actual number of bits conveyed is rather low.
If the 34gb is in terms of the "video" you intake, even just going outside and bird watching or sitting in a park... I guess? Sure? Still, misleading really.
100,000 words is, by itself almost certainly under a megabyte.
(Avg word length (let’s say 6) * number of words = number of bytes)
If you count -everything- then you’re basically insinuating that people on data caps are either consuming less (and because it’s an average, everyone else consumes much more) or outright claiming that you can quantify data that is consumed outside of a computational device.
If you are talking streaming bandwidth, Netflix says 25mbit is required for 4k video streaming. If it were to use all of that for 2 hours that is 22GB for a movie. Though its likely only using half that. I haven't actually measured it. And then there is the same inflation to what is sent to screen.
from the management summary :
"In 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per
day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and
34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. (...) We defined “information” as flows of data delivered to people and we measured the bytes, words, and
hours of consumer information. Video sources (moving pictures) dominate bytes of information, with 1.3
zettabytes from television and approximately 2 zettabytes of computer games."
I found a copy here : http://group47.com/HMI_2009_ConsumerReport_Dec9_2009.pdf
Note, these numbers are my best guess, would like to see better numbers filled in.
So even assuming almost all of that is video, I will still have to question it -- at 2gb/hr that is constantly watching video for more than 16 hours.
If I flick through a news feed of some kind, skimming for headlines that might interest me, am I "consuming" every image and video that scrolls past?
I clicked the link but didn't read the article; have I "consumed" it?
If it's the subscription paywall, just get the subscription. Else, don't read it on a site infringing on copyright - you're not entitled to the content.