Assuming you’ve read this far, some people out there in that vast pile of electronic haystacks otherwise known as the Internet are distressed to find that their reading habits have become scattered I wonder what Spencer and Heidi are up to.
Still with me?
Anyway, writing in a paper product people in the 20th century called a “magazine,” Nicholas Carr finds that his reading habits have gone the way of a hyperactive teenager on stimulants and that he has trouble reading actual books and longer articles. And in Slate, Michael Agger talks about some studies that show that your (lazy) brain skips large chunks of text, which means chances are you didn’t read this paragraph. That’s ok, it wasn’t a great paragraph anyway.
So what do you think? Has the Internet made it harder to read an actual book? Do you find your attention span maybe I should go check Gawker again?
internet reading,, tho’ it definitely preoccupies the better portion of my reading time,, is fragmented,, social,, an interation… but reading a book,, is still the time one can travel beyond the realm of the room,, become someone else somewhere else all together….
I found this blog about a week ago, since then I have been emmersed in the information provided but this is my first post.
Props to you, Nathan for giving up your own time to help all the struggling writers out there and for giving them something to think aboutdebate when writers block set in!
Back on topic I have to say the internet has not affected my off-line reading. I do however find that I cannot concentrate on words on a computer screen. Eg I have to print reports at work to proofread – otherwise I end up skimming over the information if I print a hardcopy I tend to find many more errors.
Same for my MS’s I find so many more errors when I can view it in hardcopy.
If I am really emmersed in a book though my brain tends to skip on quite quickly and I miss half the detail (but it did that long before I discovered the benefits of the internet). But that is one of the reasons I love re-reading fav books again and again to pick up on all that depth and detail.
I found that my reading habits changed with marriage, work and children. I found less time to sit down and read a long book. Fortunately, my retention skills haven’t gone downhill so I can pick up a good book and carry on when I have a spare moment.
Takes longer to finish, but I still enjoy books.
The internet is different — scattered fragments of information I might occasionally regurgitate at a party.
Betty Atkins Dominguez says
Since I have been looking at a computer screen (and browsers) so long, I only see the article I am reading.
Just a note, run, don’t walk to get the newest version of firefox!
Elissa M says
I don’t like to read much online because it’s hard on my eyes, so I do tend to skim and skip around when it’s on the computer. However, my attention span is alive, healthy, and lengthy and I have no trouble reading any sort of hard copy be it books, magazines or, gasp, newspapers.
As a science writer, I find that the Internet saves me time in my research. I used to spend hours identifying possibly useful papers, finding them in a library, skimming them to see if they really are useful, and photocopying them if I wanted to use them.
Now I do all of that electronically, but I still find myself printing out papers if I really need to read them carefully.
I do a better job editing on paper, too.
And all the time I save in research can be spent visiting blogs.
Stephanie Zvan says
Since I read the last two Harry Potter books in about 24 hours (so people could stop shutting up whenever I came into view), I’m going with no, but only for books. Like several others, I’ve watched my magazine reading disappear. I think, though, that that has less to do with attention span than with being able to interact with information on the screen and to get more of the topics I want while skipping the ones I don’t.
Hmm. Online reading certainly hasn’t made my sentences shorter.
Book reading for me is more ritualized and intentional than internet “power scanning.” I’m hoping between the two types of reading I’m developing some kind of vertical / horizontal neural pathway ambidexterity. –Oh, shiny object, gotta go.
Interesting question. I love reading and always have. And I don’t think the internet has changed my attention span as much as it’s opened up new places to get a reading fix. If something is interesting and well written, I’m going along for the short or the long ride.
Rebecca Burgess says
It has only decreased the time I spend actually working between my long bouts of procrastination.
No. Four kids has affected my reading habits. Online gaming as cut a significant chunk out of what my reading time used to be. Writing novels has taken away from it, but I find my attention span is just fine for whole books. It’s really just a matter of finding and dedicating the time to do so.
The trend to shortosity in the media has been a long time coming. 15 years ago in the newspaper biz, editors were already screaming for brevity to keep fickle readers from zoning and missing the all-important advertisements. The Internet has only intensified the whim to skim.
But books…novels…these are sacred. If I pick up my favorite author’s latest, I’m not into it just for the McInfo.
So I’d say my book reading habits remain the same, while admitting that I skim more on the Internet than I ever have with newspapers.
molly b. says
I read the Carr article last week (although I had to force myself to read the last page). Like several others here, I thought that a lot of the problems he attributed to the Internet might just be age.
I do tend to skim more online, partly because of design issues (hard-to-read fonts, too many screaming ads, weird alignments, etc.). I’ve been an ebook reader since the early days, and I’ve noticed that I can race through a bunch of short stories (I often buy EQMM and F&SF from ereader.com), a fast-paced novel, or a compelling non-fiction book on my PDA, but I will never, ever finish a slow read in electronic form. That’s usually not a problem for me with print. I think on-screen reading works better with shorter, catchier writing.
I am always reading a book. Here’s how I break down my reading: I read 1 book at a time (not coundting consulting reference books–I’m taking novels, occassional non-fiction). I read the novels mostly at night, while lying in bed just before falling asleep. I get through about 1-2 books per month like this.
Then on my daily bus commute, I read all the magazines I get from cashing in unused airmiles…these give me potential story ideas and keep me abreast of current events…
And then mostly at work and in the early morning right before I leave for work is where I do my net surfing, news and various specialty sites like space.com.
So every day I’m reading pretty much all day long–‘net, mags and books.
I don’t think the internet has changed my ability (or desire) to read longer works. But then again, I’m in the generation that pretty much grew up with this dern thing (I had an email account back in ’97… when I was 7 years old) so I assume it would be different and possibly harder if I were older.
Internet usage has some kind of negative influence on my book reading habits. But more in the way of distracting me with … well, often useless stuff instead of sitting down and reading aforementioned book. Although, I do a lot of online reading too.
But once I have a book in hand, I read it just as I’ve always done. My main problem right now is that I’m buying books faster than I can read them.
Maybe a couple of internet connection problems would solve that? … Nope, I’d just start fiddling around with everything instead of ignoring it. Sigh.
La Belle Americaine says
I can sit down and read an actual book or two, but I waste a lot of time online. Time which two years ago, I normally spent reading. *g* I blame the zillions of wonderful blogs to read on this.
Sorry — I try not to comment more than once on a post, but something just occurred to me:
I think once again this is a question whose answer (based on the comments so far) speaks to the value of gatekeepers (agents and editors). Our brain, the portion which knows that we’re reading online say, knows subconsciously that that means, mostly, “This took only ONE person to vet before its appearance here before you.” So we skim online when the material is long or “thought-y,” and when it’s in snippets or bursts it just tends to confirm what our brain already knows.
Jana Lubina says
I jump ahead when what I’m reading is so boring and redundant that the skimming won’t actually affect my comprehension of the plot. Happened recently with an author I love — I had to skim most of the middle because it was a jumble of names and scenes, and it made me sad,because her previous work was also so engrossing.
I think email is the worse culprit.
I read short articles and blogs and such on the internet but I still love books as I always did- real honest to goodness books especially if they have that book smell, y’know? But, shhhhh I’m about to get a Kindle so we’ll see if that changes things.
Kate H says
I still love long, rambling novels, but I do find it harder to get into deep nonfiction. I’m not sure the internet is to blame for that in my case, because I spend comparatively little time on it. I think it’s more a function of age and the fact that by the end of a day as an editor my brain doesn’t want to work that hard.
Daniela Soave says
I skim read on screen, but not with books. As a journalist, though, I know that publishers are worried by declining circulations, and they think the answer is to have bigger pictures and fewer words to keep readers’ attention. If people get used to reading shorter pieces, will they become incapable of reading long passages and books?
Laura in Aurora says
For me, reading is the nice break from the Internet that I need to be able to balance out all the glowing text from the workday.
I will say, though, I think it is affecting how my kids respond to books. My fourth grader (who, granted, has learning issues and ADHD), won’t pick up a chapter book unless it’s peppered with illustrations. Now comic books have been legitimized as “graphic novels” — even the library carries them! And a whole new line of YA/children’s books depend on the graphic representation to tell the story. Captain Underpants and his ilk are changing word context clues to graphical context clues, leaving less “work” for the reader.
I read ravenously…but I always have. And I have a love affair with printed books. You will probably never see a kindle in my hand — sorry Nathan!
m clement hall says
Depends what one is reading. In terms of books for pleasure, then no. In terms of books for information, then yes. The web gives an opportunity to learn further and faster, but not always deeper. Deeper, however, can be achieved by references given on the web page.
In terms of news, I can skim a dozen papers from as many countries, each morning. This was never possible before the internet.
Cigarettes & Corked Wine says
I participated in some studies that also confirmed these differences when I was in college. The focus was on the retention of information from “hot” and “cold” media. Radio, TV, Internet, etc., vs. Books, newspaper, etc. Basically your brain no likey electronic media for remembering and storing stuff.
E.A. West says
I think the internet has changed my reading habits, but I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. Skimming over websites has helped me skim the pages of a book when I’m doing research. Getting away from the computer (where I do most of my work) to read a novel is like a mini-vacation. There’s something soothing about looking at words printed on a page and feeling the pages beneath my fingers. It’s like just the act of holding a book and turning the pages gives me permission to slow down after the fast-paced world of the internet.
Yes, I admit I do have problems with a short attention span sometimes, but I’ve always had that problem. I doubt internet usage affects me any more than a windy day. As for sentences getting shorter…I like long sentences. Give me a couple of compound sentences that flow nicely over a bunch of short, choppy sentences any day.
If an agent requests material, is it okay to send a follow-up asking if they’ve received it? I know agents are really, really busy, but when the grace period is 2-3 months, it’s a real bummer to status check only to learn that the agent never got the writing!
I tend to skim a lot reading online articles, but then again it really depends on the topic (and the page layout…really, pink fonts on a black background…errr…ok, let’s get back on topic…)
Maybe it’s just a side effect of reading off a screen (yay for whoever invented flat screens…), but I tend to focus much more when I’m reading books or articles on actual paper. Most of the time.
Nathan Bransford says
Actually, unless the agent specifies otherwise, the grace period is one month. And feel free to confirm, although it’s really easier to just mention in the e-mail when you send the manuscript that you’d appreciate a confirmation e-mail.
The internet is one thing. What’s important is the democratization of text, which has always made writing more terse. The internet itself is not the issue, but it is the ability to use the internet to publish by voices not previously heard from that changes things.
This may seem subtle, but it’s important. There is always a chance what once this great change has sunk in, people in the next generation will acquire the skills necessary to filter out noise. Writers will ease back on writing for quantity and work on passing these socially acquired filters.
Has the internet changed the way I read? I’ve been on the ‘net since 1985, and the short answer is “No”. You get used to this crap after a while, even if you’re bedazzled at first.
I do think that large blocks of erudition are probably dead, much as we can pick up a 19th Century novel and find it largely unreadable. That language was killed off by universal schooling, and the 20th Century language will be killed off by the ‘net.
My advice: Learn the craft of poetry. If you all know you have only a words to say anything in, make every word count. Don’t fear the next wave of English language writing – re-invent it.
I totally skipped the first paragraph to get to the link in the second, which I instantly recognized as something I read on Fark a couple of days ago. Going back, I saw that there was nothing in the first paragraph that wasn’t in the article itself or implied in the questions in the third.
So yes. But not to any detriment.
Interesting. I have found myself gravitating towards short story collections. Just read Best Short Stories of 2007, edited by Stephen King. Good stuff.
Deborah K. White says
Has the Internet made it harder to read an actual book?
No, not at all. That said, I will admit that I rarely read long texts online (on blogs, online magazines, etc.) because the text tends to be poorly formatted and difficult to read for very long. People (including me) also tend to rabble online, so I have been known to sometimes skim when reading online stuff.
Books are easier to read and I’m usually in a more comfortable chair when reading them, so I read everything the author saw fit to write down.
Christine Carey says
No. Not at all. In fact, I read more now that I have all of these wonderful book suggestions coming from people I’ve met online.
stepping over the junk says
I find I miss many things because of the internet. I read my news (and scan) on the net instead of the newspaper and just skip around. As for books, nothing will ever take that away from me. A book is always on me.
For me, internet reading is dutiful; book reading is pleasurable. I far prefer reading a page to a screen. After working all day on computers it’s such a joy to come home and read “real” things such as books and newspapers. Easier on the eye, plus all the texture and sensory benefits that online reading doesn’t provide. I also confess to printing out anything longer than a page rather than read it on screen because my attention span wanes, yet with a book that isn’t the case. Reactionary, I know. I can’t imagine ever foregoing the sheer joy of reading actual books.
I’m finding this trend of blaming the internet for everything quite annoying.
I think these are the same people who always said they didn’t have time for long books, it’s just now they have an excuse.
It’s a child-like attitude, I think, to resent things for being irresistible. Can’t focus? Turn off the computer. But blame yourself, not the fact that you have amazing resources available to you. I mean, honestly.
I have SO much to keep up with professionally (software, hardware, programming, security, networking, databases, yada, yada, yada) that I do my best to fly through my electronic and technical reading looking for keywords that will jump out at me. At that point, I slow down looking for relevance in the words around the keyword. Yep. My brain is in overdrive when doing this.
I’m very new to the effort of professional writing, so I tend to take things slower when reading about the writing professional and arena. That’s because I lack the instinct for spotting the keywords in that area. The slowness is still a rapid pace of reading.
When I’m reading for pleasure (I think I still do that?) I take my time and absorb the book in a slow and steady manner. It tend to read like a wine critic tasting a world-class wine. I savor the grace and feel of each word, phrase, sentence, and thought expressed to me on the written page.
My wife claims that I’m a slow reader when it comes to my fiction novels. I try to explain to her that I’m not slow; I’m enjoying the trip while it lasts. I still don’t think she quite gets it.
To sum up: Yes, the Internet has changed my reading habits all around. I’m faster in reading technical items, and slower in reading prose and fiction. I hope it all balances out.
I’ve always been a reader. I love to read. But I have to admit that I read less books than before I had the internet.
I’ve been using the internet since 1992. Back then it was just email and some forums. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that the web grew enough to compete with the books in my life.
I DO still read books, but not as many as I used to. And I’ve found myself reading some eBooks, too.
The internet hasn’t changed the way I read fiction. I has changed the way I read non-fiction.
For fiction I most definitely prefer paper books. Much easier to take the beach than a piece of electronics.
Non-fiction…I can take it either way. If I want info quickly and timely, I check the internet. If I want to spend some time with a subject, I get a book.