Sunday, July 14, 2013

Does an e-reader change the way we read?

 This post made me think. [Which is the whole idea of Big Think. Duh]

The author blames e-readers for causing people to race through a book rather than lingering and savoring the experience of reading.  She's right about the fact that's evidently how most people read these days. I'm not sure that I agree that e-readers are at fault, however.  I think the "scanning" phenomenon is a function of the way the Internet works, compounded by the Information Overload that permeates the world we live in and our culture's obsession with productivity over enjoyment.

For the last eight years, I have spent hours every week reading websites and books about writing fiction. I have often been frustrated by the emphasis on paring the story down to the bare plot and ratcheting up the tension as much as possible -- and then when you think your character can't take one more crisis, throw her under a new bus. Characters are still important, but what matters is what they do, not who they are or how they got to be that way. Back story is a bad word. Beautiful language is fine provided it is plain and simple. Long sentences and paragraphs are to be avoided. No three-syllable words where a one- or two-syllable word will do, even if the big word is the perfect word.  Every page should have a lot of white space. The whole idea seems to be to write books that people can skim.

The rules for non-fiction are even worse.  Short articles are supposed to consist of bullet-points. No paragraph should contain more than four (short) sentences.  I quit taking the newspaper years ago because too many articles appear to be lists of one-sentence "paragraphs" with no narrative flow whatsoever.

What this new style basically amounts to is dumbing down the process of reading.

I don't blame e-Readers for this phenomenon, however. In fact, I find that my first Kindle (the last model before the Kindle Fire came out) is actually sort of a haven from distraction. It has 3G access for the purpose of downloading and synching e-books, but it is useless for shopping or browsing. I shop for Kindle books on a computer, and download them to my Kindle using its 3G connection. Now that I have a Kindle Fire HD, I shop on it, but I still like to do my marathon-reading on my original Kindle because (a) it's easier on my eyes and (b) I am not tempted to click over and check my email, see what my friends are doing on Facebook or watch a TED talk.

I agree with Pamela Haag that an awful lot of people have very poor reading habits. I disagree with her about the reason for that.

What do you think?

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