OK, it’s anecdotal. Still, I’ve had the same conversation about five times in the last few weeks, with people remarking on how difficult they’re suddenly finding it to read a novel without distraction. I noted it last night. I sat down with a book I’d been meaning to read for months only to lose focus within minutes. Maybe someone had sent a new email. What was happening on Twitter? Should I check Facebook? What’s this novel about again?
Here’s the book editor from the LA Times saying something similar:
That’s not a technological problem, it’s a social one, and so in that sense my headline is a bit misleading. It’s not all to do with the internet. Actually, I suspect academic life produces the same pressures, since the relentless pressure to publish leads to quote mining rather than serious reading. You find the passage you need and move on, rather than sitting down to absorb the whole book.
Modern life is quite simply faster now than a generation ago, and that affects our attitude to information. If you watch, say, a Hitchcock thriller, it’s hard not to find yourself frustrated at how slowly scenes are established. Moves from the fifties are positively leisurely compared to the sudden jump cuts of the contemporary action flick.
Nonetheless, nothing exemplifies the process more clearly than the internet, where the pressure is to constantly move to something better, where pop-ups and flashing icons compete for your attention and where every page is designed so that viewers won’t respond with the dreaded acronymn TLDNR (too long did not read).
Does this damage your ability to enjoy literary fiction — or indeed any long books that require prolonged concentration? It seems to me that it does. Meanjin recently hosted a discussion about blogging that touched on similar themes. But I’d be interested in other people’s reactions. Has anyone else out there finding their own reading habits changing?