Is linear reading becoming an antiquated past time?
I'm not really sure where to put this, meta seems the most appropriate!
Much as psychologists have observed that the act of observation changes that which is observed the realm of media is subject to a similar rule. The medium in which any media is created changes the nature of the media itself. When Friedrich Nietzsche started to use one of the first mechanical type writers his contemporaries commented that his work had become more focused and took a colder tone than his previous hand written work. The medium changed the nature of the media. Our concept of “reading” is under going a radical evolution as the majority of our reading is done on the Internet. There is also evidence to suggest that human brains create new neurological connects based on the type of information they interact with.
Before writing and alphabets were developed ancient cultures primarily passed on knowledge and information through speech. This oral tradition meant that people engaged very deeply with the information they were consuming. As writing and generally accepted alphabets developed the primary purpose was for written work to be read aloud. The end result of this was writing which lacked spacing, punctuation or grammar. It was incredibly hard for someone to read written work they had not heard spoken as the tone, timing and inflection were absent from the written work. The concept of “silent” reading was entirely alien and strange
As silent reading became more common common spelling, grammar and punctuation developed to aid the reader. This made it easier for writers and readers to confer meaning through their written work. Deep reading also developed. People began developing skills which allowed them to become absorbed and lose themselves in long form linear literature. These skills involved the lengthening of attention spans and memory. Deep linear reading allowed readers to become intimately connect with the writer and their thoughts and as a result ideas were constantly read, understood, interpreted and re imagined in the pages of an ever increasing number of books.
The invention of Gutenberg's movable type printing press forever changed the accessibility of books. Reading became a medium which the majority engaged with due to the reduced cost and production times afforded by the printing press. As books become more popular more people began to develop the cognitive skills needed for deep linear reading. Books have also survived every new media since their creation. During the rise of the news paper academics proclaimed the “death of book” calling them unfit for the modern times of day newspapers. Books have also survived the phonograph, radio and television. However books are now experiencing the most concerted and fundamental change the medium has ever faced.
Rise of the Internet
When Tim Berners-Lee finished the code which would form the foundations of the Internet humanities reading habits were about to experience a seismic evolution. The natural work flow of reading on the Internet is to find specific information in search engines. This action leads to our brains focusing on key words or small sections of written content. In effect manufacturing a permanent state of skim reading when we engage with online written content. The ability to hyperlink between articles also fundamentally changes how we interact with written content online. As consumers we jump from piece to piece reading what interests us. The Internet provides a mass of competing interests. As I write this on Google Docs I have the Vergecast on in the background, Facebook and Gmail open in different tabs, Whatsapp’s pinging up on my phone, Twitter notifications that need reading not to mention the overload of stimuli when you look at a website such as the Verge.For example:
- 5 tabs
- 2 adverts
- Multitude of colours
- 13 news articles
- 5 social network/sharing tools
- Images and text
- Search bar
- Content tabs
- Steam notification
The Internet provides an ecosystem of distraction,we rarely if ever interact with one thing when we are online. Compare this to a book where your interaction is entirely focused on that one action for an extended period of time. This change in our interaction is changing the way in which we perceive and process information. Our brains are becoming trained to process information in comments, tweets, texts and emails.
Ebooks have been heralded as the modernisation of the printed medium, the saviour of the book against the all devouring information juggernaut of the Internet. I believe this is not the case. Amazon as the poster boy of the ebook with their Kindle e-reader are falling under the influence of the law of media stated at the start of this article. The medium in which any media is created changes the nature of the media itself. E-readers have a wealth of social sharing features, the ability to add comments to sections of books, to look for definitions of works online and share sections of the text to social networks. All of this pulls our attention away from the deep linear engagement traditionally associated with reading. I love my Kindle however I go to great lengths to turn off our remove any of the social sharing or networking features. When i read long form literature I want to be immersed in the text I am reading.
The long term impact of these changes are still unknown. But it is something that affects every single person who reads on the Internet.
How has the Internet affected your reading habits?
Do you value deep linear reading?
Do you believe this change in the way we process information is negative or positive?