That culture is extroverted rather than introverted, geared towards triggering simplistic emotional responses rather than exploring complex arguments with nuance, and actively hostile to abstraction and focused deep insight.
This mode has always existed, but long-form writing used to offer a potential refuge from it. Without a strong written culture that refuge ceases to exist.
As for books, they require a large investment with a minimal chance of returns. Nobody recommends your book. There is no way to have advertisers sponsor your book. So to write a book, you need to secure financing and build a bespoke marketing campaign to make a profit. That is just too hard, so people make videos instead, because the financial aspect and finding an audience takes care of itself and the creator can focus on content. (Of course, there is still plenty of randomness; lots of great channels with 3 subscribers and 10 views because the recommendation algorithm never found them. But losing the recommendation lottery is a lot different than not having anything at all. So people keep trying, and I think a lot of good channels do get discovered.)
As for books, it really depends on what your goals are. No, you're very unlikely to end up making a good living off of it. But, for example, if you're in technology, having a book or two to your name can be enormously helpful to your professional profile. I've certainly gotten opportunities by being an author. Even if I've just basically made beer money, it's been a very good payback.
I just don't see recommendation engines/other infrastructure on YouTube as offering any particularly unique discovery and monetization mechanism vs. other media. If anything, it seems you're more dependent on the whims of Google than in the case of, say, an independent blog.
This seems equally well a description of a pre-literate culture, so there doesn't seem to be any reason that the pendulum couldn't swing again.
Simply not true. There is more writing in the last year ( digital and print ) than there was in all human history prior the 2019. Each movie now creates countless textual/abstract comments, posts, essays, analysis, etc.
> That culture is extroverted rather than introverted, geared towards triggering simplistic emotional responses rather than exploring complex arguments with nuance, and actively hostile to abstraction and focused deep insight.
I have to disagree. There certainly is more overall fluff, but there is also more substance.
> Without a strong written culture that refuge ceases to exist.
Except that there have been more textual and abstracted content created in the last year. More people are literate and writing than ever before.
Compare an issue of (say) New Scientist from the 1970s with a contemporary issue. Or an issue of Byte from the early 80s with a modern equivalent, if you can think of one.
> “Behind our screens, at work and at home, we have sutured the temporal segments of our days so as to switch our attention from one task or one source of stimulation to another. We cannot but be changed.”
This part rings true for me.
Last summer I read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” and then “Digital Minimalism,” in which he gets very into this topic of hypermedia and distracted living. It greatly influenced my thinking about how I use my time, and made me more conscious of the need to focus and actually be present with one activity at a time. This has greatly increased my productivity and lowered my stress level, so I highly recommend it.
Newport argues that a lot of what is “wrong” with today’s computers (in every form factor) is the very thing that makes them so useful: they can do so many things. So unlike a paper book, which is really only for reading, a screen is for displaying all kinds of things, and if we are reading on a screen with notifications turned on then we’re probably reading distracted which means we aren’t reading well.
I read almost exclusively on my iPad or phone. I find it quite comfortable to sit on the couch and read from either device, but I prefer the iPad (mini). When I occasionally still read a paper book I find the experience is really no better or worse than reading on the iPad, except that the iPad has hundreds of books stored in the space and weight of a single magazine.
However, I do think one reason the experience is qualitatively equivalent it is I don’t do a whole lot else on my iPad, so I don’t find it to be a distracting device. I associate it with reading.
Another relevant book on this topic, “Moonwalking with Einstein,” is all about memory. That book essentially makes the case that (educated) people in the pre-internet era had to hold a lot of material in their heads, because you couldn’t google stuff, and so everyone practiced using their memory more, committed more “important,” things to memory, and generally did a better job retaining things they learned.
All of these are interesting, complex side effects of the internet and the ever more ubiquitous computer, and I think there is a lot for us to think about here. On a personal level, we have some opportunity and perhaps obligation to ensure our lives are enriched by these technologies and push back on the negatives that come with them. But just FWIW, I don’t think trying to switch back to only reading on paper is, by itself, the answer :)
The problems we are starting to face are not google-able problems. Despite this wealth of information, people still struggle in math class, physics is still hard, engineering students still drop out, etc. Analytical, problem solving activities are getting harder to do. Sure, I can look up the date of X, but so what?
Now that there is absolutely no barrier to entry, I'd wager much of what you google isn't even truth. Look at anti-vaccination, holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, survivorship bias self help not based on anything. There is no inherent curation built into the internet - on one hand, this is good - but I think we are now seeing the negative effects grow exponentially.
I only have one iPad and I do use it for many things including work, and it is shared with family members. That makes it full of distractions.
I have thought about getting a second iPad dedicated to reading, but since you can't uninstall Safari, I feel I'm going to end up getting distracted by the Internet. I'm not confident I have the self-discipline to never go on the Internet when it's just a tap away.
I do think having an iPad-like device with no functions except a book reader would be an interesting product.
For even more effective control, let someone else set your Screentime passcode :)
> In sum, Wolf says, the paper reading brain has better memory, more imagination, immersion, and patience, and more knowledge than the screen reading brain.
I've been torn for years about how to feel about my reading and writing habits. I love reading physical books, especially when I'm trying to develop a deep understanding of some topic, and I have, at times, made concerted efforts to take notes on paper and keep my daily schedules and to-do lists in notebooks. But at the same time, I love reading the articles and other types of content that are surfaced by users here and on other sites.
I can't be certain (could just be confirmation bias of some sort), but I personally find that what Wolf said in that line is true. When I read and write on paper, I feel like I have a deeper connection to what's there and am more able to reason about it. Reading and writing on a computer feels more detached, like I'm just consuming the content without understanding or just dumping out ideas without thinking.
With paper books, all this is very painful - too much jugglery needed.
I question the benefit of search beyond finding a sentence or two. Most large ideas require more than a sentence or two to explain something, and ignoring the context before and after could limit my understanding.
Definitely an area where everyone works differently and it takes serious effort to figure out what's best for you personally.
Quick example: when you're reading a book, you have always two pages available to yourself to read. When you read an ebook, you have one, or part of one page on the screent at a time. That doesn't lend itself to going back and re-reading. A physical book has the chance to keep our attention on a larger scale than an ebook.
But lets twist that example. When I was in primary school, one of my brightest classmates had a severely impaired vision. He'd had to practically stick his face into a book or sheet of paper to read. Probably a large screen with adjustable fonts, and good contrast, would help him read.
I think we need to find a new balance to how we consume written media. But I wouldn't cry that books are disappearing, rather I think "old books" do not adjust so well to screens, and that "screen books" lend themselves to ways that old-written-media couldn't do. We need a new balance to get the best from both worlds, and have an improved medium to read from.
I replace searching with maintaining my own comprehensive index. It forces me to think about what I’ve read and consider the situations in which it might be useful so that I can file it away correctly. I read fewer things this way, but they stick in my memory better, for probably a similar net result.
I used to think this was about the act of writing in itself - that doing it by hand forced me to be more conscious of the information - but writing with e.g. an Apple Pencil on an iPad is just as useless as typing.
I'd really like to figure this out because I love the idea of searchable notes that are available anywhere, any time, and aren't dependent on a dead tree for their longevity, but I haven't found the solution yet. I have a theory that it might be related to the fundamental experience (friction, texture) of a pen and paper, so I'm considering a reMarkable but I'm wary of obsolescence.
I bought this as my summer project -- basically, 'Steve, let's retrain your brain to focus on long form reading again.'
What I like about an ereader / eink is that its not some flashy screen with a bunch of stuff going on in the background like an iPad or whatever. The screens look great and have an amazing refresh rate these days.
The Libra is a 7" screen, which I figured should be good enough to read PDF'd magazines in landscape -- and I was right ! This uses KOReader . While the images themselves aren't the same as a color magazine/screen, it's good enough. For epubs everything is exactly as you'd expect.
With my own ADHD, the initial get-down-to-reading is tough, but I've noticed that it is getting easier with each session. And it is also getting to the point where I am looking forward to reading.
I had an old Kindle Keyboard (wifi.) I struggled reading off of that thing -- whereas this new Kobo Libra actually looks like paper and is a breeze to read off of, which may also be a placebo. :)
Whereas digital data appears to break the mental physical space rule that a thing exists in a certain place? As for notes on a phone or computer, they've disappeared into another dimension and are harder to think of as being "at hand." We can't really use our spatial memory on digital stuff, I'm guessing.
A Kindle might be better since your current page in your current book opens as soon as you wake it up, more like a physical object and less like something that disappears into and reappears out of a magician's bag.
I find with my Kindle and ebooks in general that I'd really like some minimal but ever-present indication of my place in the book, even a single pixel progress bar, maybe in part because I yearn for some kind of spatial-object relationship with the book.
With pen and paper notes I've got a 3d object that I've altered. Maybe it feels more present in the same way that cash on a table feels more like "real money" than the credit card next to it.
I agree with other commenters here that a lot of it could be conditioning, but I've also found, like you, that even handwriting on devices is lacking compared to doing it with pen and paper. My personal theory is that it might have something to do with the ability to reason in a more spatially oriented way when we use pen and paper to write things down.
To put things in contrast: the Russian Empire, home of many great writers, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Checkhov just to name a few, had a literacy rate of about 24% overall; and at that, less than 13% of women were literate.
The truth is, reading has never really been the pastime of the masses, save, possibly, for a brief period in the 20th century.
> To put things in contrast: the Russian Empire, home of many great writers, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Checkhov just to name a few, had a literacy rate of about 24% overall
Like another poster commented, Russia had serfdom until well into the 19th century. Look at central and western Europe, if you want to see a literate society in that time.
Also, what is your point with this? Poor societies had bad literacy levels? Illiterate peasants don't care for books? I struggle to see the point with that observation.
> The truth is, reading has never really been the pastime of the masses, save, possibly, for a brief period in the 20th century.
Not dying of diharrea before the age of 5 has also never been the pasttime of the masses until a hundred years ago. What the hell does that mean? If people start dying of preventable diseases again that we should not worry?? If indices of progress start stagnating, or in this case, regressing, then we must wonder how on earth we are doing so badly.
If 90% of the people stop reading books "deeply" (and that's assuming they ever did), we still get to have Tolstoys of our day for the people who want to spend their time that way. This is no loss for humanity.
You picked "reading books" as your metric of progress, but that choice needs to be justified. If, instead, you picked "watching programmed television", you could be similarly concerned as more people are cutting cable, but fewer people would take this argument seriously.
If we go back to 20% literacy, we still have to likes of Tolstoy.
Arguably famine and disease are bad for those who experience them. Replacing reading books with blogs, games, and video? Not quite so clear.
I argue that nothing is lost at all. The bookworms (to which, I hope, I belong) shouldn't be said if 90% don't participate in their favorite hobby.
Nor has widespread participation in the political process, yet the benefits of democratic society seem worth preserving/enlarging.
My point was that great literature doesn't need involvement of the masses (unlike democracy).
Penny Dreadful existed because Netflix wasn't there. So it will be gone - again, is this a huge loss to the civilization? I don't think there's a sadness that people aren't reading more literature of the Penny Dreadful kind.
And as I said, it's not a slippery slope: you don't need the 90% for great literature to exist.
Most people will read fewer books. And it's fine.
It is the people who need a great thing to inspire/guide them.
To paraphrase you,
Great literature doesn't need the masses, the masses (present and future) need great literature.
We'll have both plenty of readers and great writers even if most people primarily turn to mediums other than books for entertainment.
I absolutely love reading books but it takes a really conscious effort to carve out time and space in the day to to it. I need quiet and I need my other interruptions to pause.
I own a ton of paper books but I've recently switched to Kindle. I find that having a small and self-illuminating reading device makes me way more able to take advantage of reading time when I find it.
> She points out how the “physical and temporal thereness of books” provides a tactile support for the reading circuit’s development that e-books do not, while noting e-books nonetheless continue to spread to classrooms and children’s bedrooms.
Why would this be the case?
Is there a measurable difference between dedicated "paper-like" e-book readers like the Kindle vs. e-books on multi-use digital devices like mobile phones, tablets and computers?
With an ebook you have the same little device with exactly the same dimensions for every book (no memorable covers or different formats) and there's no physical indication of how far through the book you are. And you can change the font size.
I wish the author was more specific on what "reading circuit development" means.
The frustrating thing about e-book reading devices is how slow they are. Flipping to the table of contents or flipping around the book just doesn't work. Mobile devices, tablets and computers are faster, but the experience still isn't as good a physical book. And then there are distractions.
All of that comes in to play.
For my last read-through of Children of Dune (roughly a year ago now), I read it on the Kindle app on my phone. I remember the hotel room in Mumbai, the look of the text (white on a black background), the sun going down, and the characters moving through my mind. Would I have developed these recall skills if I hadn't spent my life reading paper books? I'm not so sure.
See page 30 for the "reading circuit" diagram.
I always have a sense of where to go back to to refresh some old ideas if my memory gets blurry. Knowing how far into the book it was already aids my recollection.
A pocket device without notifications. Can you even still imagine? I barely can, and it's only been eight years.
Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction
Analog Anchors for the Online Adrift
How is that the equivalent of nearly 100,000 words? I appreciate people read a lot of text messages, articles, posts, etc. But they don't read 100,000 words worth of those things on average a day by any means. 34 gigabytes of data is also definitely not 100,000 words, more like 5,100,000,000 words or 17,000,000 pages.
Is it based on some 'a picture is worth 1,000 words' argument?
The whole article is just bizarre. It conflates so many unrelated things and doesn't seem to have any real thesis. People not reading books doesn't really have anything to do with people using phones except for the indisputable fact anyone here will attest to: going back to reading books after not doing so for a long time is really hard. You find your mind wandering, you find it hard to read linearly one line at a time without skipping around, etc. The kind of reading you do of a blog post is totally different from the kind of reading you do of a novel. That people read pamphlets in the 18th century has nothing at all to do with the decline in people reading books today.
I literally have students coming into tutorials that cannot write. They cannot write down answers on paper. They struggle to write (to write!) because they've been told they can just type and never have to write. It's absolutely bizarre, but that's what they're told by their school teachers, apparently. They also can't sit still and read something without getting out their phones. Students complain that their lecture notes aren't put online and they have to actually attend lectures and take notes themselves even though it's been proven again and again that handwriting notes in lectures is much better for information retention and synthesis of ideas than typing or god-forbid not taking notes at all.
Personally, I'm really unsure whether I would even let kids have access to the internet. I had a lot of great experiences online as a kid (I have very fond memories of RuneScape from ages 9-12), and I learnt computer programming online. At the same time, I think you have to be really careful to limit it. It shouldn't be the primary means of entertainment. Mobile devices are probably the main issue: avoid them and at least you can ration and supervise their access to the internet. It can be a tool for research, homework and learning (and fun and games) without the dangers. The mixed messages ("don't share your personal info online" + "put all your personal info online on Facebook and Instagram") are unhealthy and confusing to kids too, I think.
This is especially funny in a Japanese class where the Chinese students end up correcting the teacher's kanji mistakes. Though, now that computers and smartphones are as common in China as Japan I suspect the same thing will happen in China.
Maybe it's the same thing as forgetting out to spell because we know the device will spell check and correct for us.
It was probably meant to say 100,000 books. That would be 0.34 MB per book which is reasonable. For comparison, the first Harry Potter book as a text file is 0.4 MB.
You could have asked your question with more humility and less abrasion. Just because you don't know about a topic doesn't mean there isn't reams of research about it.
Chinese technological leadership petered out after the Four Great Inventions ( so around 800AD ) and the economy grew on the back of trade.
The Century of Humiliation took place because China was already well behind the technological edge by that time.
They achieved all kinds of marvelous inventions in this era. And while they didn’t quite achieve the abstract notions of calculus, they did master systems of equations, which is the precursor to linear algebra. And we know today, that linear algebra is the fundamental foundation of computer science.
But, they had a fertile valley in the south, and became the breadbasket of Asia. This was probably what Genghis Khan envied, and why the ancient Chinese spent so much sweat and fortune to build their Great Wall fortifications in the north, to defend themselves.
But alas, Khan succeeded, and decimated the Chinese, and set them back a few hundred years. It took a hundred years, until the Ming Dynasty were able to overthrow them. But the Chinese were never quite the same again. The Ming did build the fabled fleet ships of Zheng He, and traded with Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Then the Ming faded, and were replaced with the Qing Dynasty. And this dynasty was some combination of the Mongols, so the Mongols eventually ruled China again, by decree. So thus, at this point, they had no need for any more Great Wall fortifications. The enemy was now inside the gates.
At this point, the Qing had dominated the local lands, and thus had no further military competition. Until the Europeans and Americans came, and handed their ass to them, and murdered, and drugged, and enslaved them along the way.
Thus, their complacency was the downfall of them.
Of course, the Qing were also incompetent and did stupid things, like empower a woman as their leader, while the world was undergoing massive shifts in power. And she spent their money on rebuilding the gardens, instead of investing in military armature. But, the Europeans were also to blame for this, because they stole all of China’s money through forced reparations. It’s kinda hard to save money, when the thieves are stealing your gold at forced gunpoint.
And the rest is history.
Like TAOCP, then, eh?
I really treasure books, but I'm not finding not so much as I did in the past.
And there is some evidence that maybe 100 years after that time all living memory of a time with the personal computer will be gone.
Paraphrasing "rich kids are more literate than poor kids despite both having a lot of screentime" doesn't prove anything about books and literacy.
This is a pure opinion piece with cherry picked facts.