“I have forgotten how to read” by Michael Harris touches upon how our reading behavior changed as we become more intimate with our smart phones. Below are my notes from this article.
To read was to shutter myself and, in so doing, discover a larger experience. I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.
What a brilliant way to describe the impact of reading in our lives!
But online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.
So sad but true. My reading behavior changed the most with multiple tabs. I’m trying to make a conscious decision to close tabs as soon as I recognize that I don’t need them any more, but it’s still a work in progress.
…So, I throw down the old book, craving mental Tabasco sauce. And yet not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.
Very true and I don’t know why, but twitter continues to be an elusive channel for me. I get the technicality of it, but I was never a fan of going on that platform for news and using that medium to consume news.
For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic – and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.
I naively believed in this theory as well — but I’m learning that I need to proactively manage the numerous distractions that bite away my limited attention capacity.
What’s at stake is not whether we read. It’s how we read. And that’s something we’ll have to each judge for ourselves; it can’t be tallied by Statistics Canada. For myself: I know I’m not reading less, but I also know I’m reading worse.
It seems like Micheal Harris is in my mind describing and translating my thoughts about reading into beautiful sentences. I do read a lot more, but I notice myself not finishing long form articles simply because it isn’t instantly gratifying.
“Little TV!” she insisted. “Not big TV!” She needed the smaller screen format so as to monitor the lineup of videos still to come. Focusing, even for a minute, on a single video was no good. She needed the panoply, the stream, the comfort of attending entertainments.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m like his niece when I’m on Youtube.
So maybe that change into a cynical writer can be forestalled – if I can first correct my reading diet, remember how to read the way I once did. Not scan, not share, not excerpt – but read. Patiently, slowly, uselessly.
Reading diet — what a beautiful way to describe the books that I consume.
Books have always been time machines, in a sense. Today, their time-machine powers are even more obvious – and even more inspiring. They can transport us to a pre-internet frame of mind. Those solitary journeys are all the more rich for their sudden strangeness.
Yes, books are time machines as well.
Not surprisingly, it took many sittings and attempts to complete this post to finish this piece. While I’m embarrassed to admit my scatter brained tendencies while reading, I’m glad that I eventually completed this piece to think of reading in a different way.