Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Has the Internet Changed the Way You Read?

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?






92 comments:

Margaret Yang said...

Yes, that is--

Oh look! A chicken!

John C. said...

I sometimes find my reading to be more fragments, but usually only if it's online. I still read books as I've always done. I guess my brain shifts gears when going from online to papyrus.

John C. said...

BTW, I meant "fragmented". Obviously the intarweb has affected my patience at proofreading my comments.

Conduit said...

Interesting question. I make websites for a living, and one of the basic principles is that people skim when reading online. Wherever possible, information should be provided in bullet points.

I do feel my attention span isn't what it once ... er ... where was I?

Oh, yes - which brings me back to a point I raised in the E-book debates. Is technology going to change the nature of what people read as well as how they read it? Will shorter fiction become the norm? Will writers with snappier styles fare better than those who ramble on?

Melanie Avila said...

LOL, my attention-span is shorter for online articles, but not books. I cringe when people say they skim large chunks in books - the author took time with that and I think you should read it! I know writers took time with articles too, but since it took a much shorter amount of time I don't feel bad devoting less of my time.

You didn't read that, did you?

David said...

Carr is spouting the same garbage that's been around since Plato's lament about the young, and probably before that. This is a modern version that attributes the supposed ongoing decline and fall of civilization to gadgets instead of the corrupting influence of outside agitators.

Carr is experiencing a problem that we all do as we get older. It's easier to be distracted, harder to focus, more difficult even to write a longish sentence without forgetting who the subject ares.

Nathan Bransford said...

Ha -- ironic David, because Carr talks all about that at the end of the article. He even mentions Plato, although in the context of Socrates lamenting the written word.

Other Lisa said...

I read this article a couple of days ago. Of course I can't remember what it said but at the time it scared me.

This is really twisted but I find that I do my best novel-reading on the exercise bike at the gym. It's like, oooh, I really want to finish that book. Better go ride the bike. I don't know if this is connected to the splintering of my attention span or not. I'm guessing it is, and that I've gotten hyper enough to need the physical activity in order to focus.

Lauren said...

Chicken!

Also: yes. I've been a, shall we say, heavy Internet user since the mid-90s. My addiction has cooled a little over the past few years, but I still find my online reading habits infecting my book reading. I'll be reading the top of the left page, and then suddenly, I'll find that my eyes have skipped all the way over to the bottom right page and read the last few sentences there. Or I'll start absentmindedly flipping through the book and reading random pages in chapters I haven't gotten to yet. I've spoiled more than one ending for myself that way.

Also, it's rare that I sit down and read more than 20 or 25 pages at a time. I read a book or two a week, but I break it up more than I used to. The last marathon I did was a couple months ago -- about 250 pages of Junot Diaz's Oscar Wao in a single sitting.

Ulysses said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

Hey Ulysses, could you please shoot me a quick e-mail? Nothing bad, I swear!

Scott said...

>Has the Internet made it harder to read an actual book?

No way! It's just the opposite. I can get my hands on books now that I never would have known existed back in The Day. Books that I never would have known about are now a couple clicks away from my bookshelf.

On the other hand, I used to love the newspaper, but I now get most of my news online, where it is delivered in small TV-like chunks, but where I can look for more details and different perspectives on some stories that especially interest me.

jill said...

Internet usage hasn't changed my reading habits at all (except in helping me to discover new writers and books!). I read newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, emails, and websites. My husband just set up my computer with two monitors and two keyboards so I can write/surf on one and have a game running on the other.

Wait, that was probably a bad example. I often have email open in one window and assorted blogs/websites on another and switch between them while screens load. Once, I was reading a magazine and a book while doing that. It didn't work nearly as well.

Two teenage daughters who have grown up with internet, computers, and satellite television still read every chance they get - books, newspapers, sometimes magazines -- and get news and content from the internet.

The internet gives us more choices, but doesn't have to change the way we use them.

Tiffany Kenzie said...

No it's not harder to read an actual book. It's harder to read any blogs over 400-500 words. I find I skip them more often than not. Even if they are broken up into shorter paragraphs, I'll skim. But, it could be because I'm at work and shouldn't be on the net playing :)

Will Entrekin said...

I'd say it's a question of apples and oranges, but they're too similar; really I think it's a question of apples and wolverines. Sure, they're words on either a screen or a page, but what's really different between online reading and most other forms is function. As well as the reasons we read them. To wit: people read magazines/newspapers for much the same reason they surf the Internet and blogs. This causes redundancy, and is probably at least half the reason the circulations for magazines and newspapers has declined.

People read books for a different reason than they read magazines, though, or newspapers. It's a far more immersive experience that blogs and the Internet have difficulty mirroring because of their unfixed nature.

So anyway, the Internet hasn't changed the way we read so much as it's offered a new medium for reading, which is probably analogous to changing the way one drives versus giving one a different vehicle. Which is why, as John C. notes, his brain shifts gears when going from online to papyrus.

Anonymous said...

Not Really--I still follow the text left to right, top to bottom.

Luc2 said...

No, internet hasn't changed how I read. If a book is compelling I can get wrapped up in it. If a good book isn't too long, I often am able to finish it in one go.

Internet does negatively affect my writing, however. I read the following anonymous quote somewhere:
"Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet." Amen to that.

Now I must go back to watching football.

Anonymous said...

I'm already getting the impression that short sentences are the preferred style. Witness Lee Child.
One agent complaimed my sentences were 'too long'. The handwriting. Is. On. The. Wall.

Trée said...

No, but it seems to change the way I write since few blog readers seem to want to read more than 500 words at a time.

beth said...

I think that the internet age just helped hone my already ADD attention span. I've always read 3-5 books at once--I keep one or two in every room; I get bored with a chapter, I go to another book. Now, on the internet, I switch back and forth between my Mozilla Firefox tabs. It's nothing new--it's just technology increasing my ability to spread out my attention.

hldyer said...

Hmmm... there may be something to that notion.

My last blog post was 340 words and felt REALLY long.

But that's okay cuz it's musical and silly. *snort*

Kirsten Hubbard said...

I completely agree. The antidote? Definitely, reading books as well. As long as we continue to do both, I think we strike a balance. Unfortunately, many people don't.

Kimber An said...

Yes, but for the good. By networking in Cyber-Space, I'm aware of a lot more and different novels that I would know nothing about way out here in the Alaskan Bush otherwise. Besides not being near a real bookstore, I don't have time for them either.

Anonymous said...

It certainly fragments my ability to poofread.

JES said...

Leonard Pitts (the Miami Herald columnist) wrote about this Atlantic piece recently, too.

For good or ill, I've always been a schizoid reader -- somebody above mentioned Lee Child, whose Reacher novels I love, but I also like the slower-paced "thoughty" things like (say) Kavalier & Clay or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. (Or maybe I like them only if they have ampersands in their titles.) I get different kinds of satisfaction from both kinds of material.

OTOH: There are only so many hours in a day. Which means if I spend 90 minutes on a given evening hopping around the interwebs, that's 90 minutes less "real" reading. I find myself staying up later and later to catch up. :)

Anonymous said...

chickens and monkeys, reading, writing, picking up e-mails, ordering lunch, sending, waiting, hovering,
more chickens, monkeys, software download, software tutorials, proofread, research, getting distracted with all those cute dog pictures,spent three hours watching u-tube clips of the mysterious Paulding Light in the Upper Peninsula...

when I have a book in my hand, the book has my whole attention.
It is relaxing, soothing, fun, good for me, quieting, and makes me think.

I actually get up in the morning and DO NOT FIRST TURN ON MY COMPUTER
so I will think about things FIRST.

Neptoon said...

Aloha Nathan,

Interesting question. I still have not read a book on a screen. I do news and world events and mail and a couple of blogs (well, your blog), but for relaxing reading I seek a more traditional approach.

In fact, I like grabbing a book with paper pages and grippable bindings just to get away from my computer(s). If the book is really good my attention span matches the number of pages in the book. If I can't finish the book in a sitting, I'm thinking about it until I can create the time to finish it. A good book can heal what ails you.

However, in my case, after yesterday, I think I might have to wait for a couple of Laker games next season against the Kings and the Warriors to heal my wounds.

My people get rather skittish and uneasy following massacres...and so this is the end to my NBA references for this year...the better TEAM won!

A'hui hou...

natalie516 said...

Not at all, the only thing that has changed with time has been the amount I have available to read. In terms of the way I read I still read everything, I do not skip paragraphs or whole sentences or word.

joycemocha said...

The only way the Internet's affected how I read is that I've cut back on magazine and newspaper reading. Doesn't affect how I read books, except that I hear about more books I want to read; therefore my to-read pile is bigger.

What does affect my reading style is the day job. Toward the end of the school year my brain wants more brain candy than deep stuff.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure college did that. I only had short amounts of time to do *anything*, and after a while, my brain wired itself to work that way. I used to have a very long attention span, but these days, I have the attention span of a gnat, and am usually multi-tasking on top of that. Even if I'm really involved in something (writing an intense scene, reading, watching a movie, whatever), I usually pause every few minutes just to look up or do something different. (As you can see, I'm now checking my Google reader between two tasks at work.)

Of course, the internet doesn't really help, since most things on it are meant to be read quickly. But at least I don't skim!

Just_Me said...

I think the only way the internet effects my reading is how I find books and what I read. I can find books on a website that I won't find at the chain stores nearby, that means I have a wider selection. Otherwise, no, I still sit and devour books in one sitting

1writeway said...

I definitely read online material differently than I do hard copy, and I think I'm meant to. That is, as someone already mentioned, online material is meant to be read quickly, in bursts. So, when I came across Carr's article online, I had to force myself to read about half of it. Then I emailed the article to myself, although I would prefer to read the paper version. Reading text on a computer dries out my eyes, maybe another reason why we need to keeping "moving" on the net. (Then, again, I read Jarhead on an e-book device without any problem.)

I recently found that I still have the capacity to "hunker down" with a book and become oblivious to my physical surroundings. The problem is I don't get to do that as often as when I was a kid or in college.

And I wouldn't blame the internet *entirely* for our shortened attention span. Just watch an hour of TV where you get maybe 4 straight minutes of content and then several 30-second bursts of advertisements.

Maybe that's why I find power outages to be kind of blissful ...

LoraliSophia said...

If anything, reading more online has made me more patient in my reading of paper formatted stories.

Online, I'm more likely than not to skim because half of the stuff there is random scribblings and not very cohesive. There are exceptions, but when I am reading over, in particular, pop culture stuff, I feel my attention slipping and my eyes glazing over.

Reading off line however, I put more stock into what I'm reading because those stories actually had to go through more hoops than something that someone just randomly posted or wrote on the spur of the moment. There is also something tactile about holding a book that you are reading rather than just staring at a screen for hours.

1writeway said...

I definitely read online material differently than I do hard copy, and I think I'm meant to. That is, as someone already mentioned, online material is meant to be read quickly, in bursts. So, when I came across Carr's article online, I had to force myself to read about half of it. Then I emailed the article to myself, although I would prefer to read the paper version. Reading text on a computer dries out my eyes, maybe another reason why we need to keeping "moving" on the net. (Then, again, I read Jarhead on an e-book device without any problem.)

I recently found that I still have the capacity to "hunker down" with a book and become oblivious to my physical surroundings. The problem is I don't get to do that as often as when I was a kid or in college.

And I wouldn't blame the internet *entirely* for our shortened attention span. Just watch an hour of TV where you get maybe 4 straight minutes of content and then several 30-second bursts of advertisements.

Maybe that's why I find power outages to be kind of blissful ...

Arwen said...

I don't find this to be the case for me, and I also think we do have a habit of mis-attributing affects as people (see "regression to the mean") ... After all, someone was reading newsletters, almanacs, and Reader's Digest.

I'd hazard a guess that certain sorts of readers have always skipped chunks of text, we're just better at measuring it now; I remember in high school, a teacher reading aloud chosen sections because "people miss detail when reading to themselves", and I know that I've read books a second time and have been delighted to find a hawk in the sky or a stripe in a sock that I missed the first time through.

Also, not to disparage or question either Carr or Agger specifically, but age does do things to our lives and brains. We have added time pressures and distractions; greater responsibilities and stressors; and more of a vulnerability to wandering off mid-thought...

Adaora A. said...

It's made it easier for me. I get tips in terms of the best books to read, I pick them up, then I blog about how amazing they are. The internet has only furthered my intrenched status as a book addict.

"Times are bad, children are no longer obeying their parent's, and everyone is reading a book." - Marc Tullius.

I love that quote so much that is graces my blog.

superwench83 said...

I don't know that it's a good comparison, honestly. I look for shorter things to read online, and as for fiction reading online, unless I'm doing a crit for someone, I only prefer to read flash fiction online; else I want it in paper. But in novels...well, one of my favorite authors is George R.R. Martin, and his books are something like 800 pages long.

So I guess this is a long way of saying that I agree with what john c. said!

A Paperback Writer said...

I've always been able either to fragment my attention and multitask (try watching Jonny in the back row who might be texting in his hoodie pocket while teaching a lesson on 12th night and planning the lesson on verbs for the next class -- and oh, is Susan writing on the desk?) or else block out the rest of the world and read for several hours straight (Uh, NOT while I'm in the classroom).
Both are useful for me and both have been unaffected by the internet.

L.C.McCabe said...

I have found that the internet cuts into the amount of time that I spend reading.

It is easy to surf the web to look up one fact and then realize that an hour and a half has elapsed and nothing much has been accomplished other than be entertained by the various websites you've discovered.

Internet usage means that I watch less television than ever before, and have to force myself to leave my computer in order to read books before going to bed.

I have read many long articles online, but I skim those just as readily as I have skimmed books in the past if I am looking for something in specific. The difference is that in bound publication you can check the index in the back for pertinent keywords whereas online you use the "find in this page" search.

Gwen said...

Nope, I still have a fabulous attention span when I am reading something interesting. I tend to get really drawn into a book... you know, really involved mentally and emotionally.

When it comes to textbooks, though... well, I'm known to skim rather than read properly.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Definitely yes. This rapid-fire consumption of information I find myself practicing throughout the day (message boards, news websites, agent blogs) has retarded my attention span for novels.

I can reverse the damage of course, but it's going to take some work. First thing to do is...




what was the question?

Kiersten said...

Loved the way you wrote this, Nathan. Wonderful.

But while I frequently skim blog posts (never yours, of course), I don't think it has affected my normal reading.

Isabelle Santiago said...

This might be a loaded question. Mostly because I find reading things online is difficult due to the many distractions. My attention is in eight different places at once. -An IM conversation - an open manuscript - email - catching up on blogs - etc, etc. So reading an ebook or an article can be difficult if it gets too long. My attention starts to sway.

Paper/print is different. I get a book and I devour it. I'm hungry for more. Which is why I think e-readers are growing in popularity. Similar concept. Helps us focus on what's in front of us, not everything around us.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Sometimes yes and sometimes no, well, mostly yes, that is when reading a paper book, I tend to skip

then again, makes it hard to edit a hard copy of someone's manuscript, much prefer editing on-screen

so, what was the question?

Gabrielle said...

Nope. I still read books easily. I'm actually reading "Atonement" right now, which is as unbloglike as possible. It has the rare effect of making me love the book and not like a single character. (Robbie's all right, but that's just because James McAvoy plays him in the movie.)

Anonymous said...

After spending the last year spending much of my time doing internet research and writing, I'm finding it very hard to pick up a book and start reading it. It's the first time in my life that I'm not "always reading a book;" but the worst evidence of this trend is what I see in my two teenagers, once avid book readers and now glued to their computer screens for their social lives, homework, entertainment... I think it's a really huge problem.

spyscribbler said...

Yes, yes, YES! Not only has it changed my reading, but because I write fiction to be read on the internet, I've noticed that my voice has become ... internet-y.

Short paragraphs. Short sentences. Fewer commas.

I was actually wondering: do you find paragraphs are getting shorter in the submissions you receive? Is the internet affecting writing style, too?

Gail said...

I'm not sure this is what you meant -- I still read only paper -- but oh, my goodness, my ability to buy obscure books for myself and to find the books I loved as a child for my children to read is easy as pie now. Where I used to have to track them down by phone in used bookstores all over the country and pay a fortune to have them sent to me, I google them now and Amazon sends them to me for pennies.

Bethanne said...

I just read my seventh Brenda Joyce book in 10 days... so no. I don't think so.

Will I read an article online when there are pictures to suffice? NO!

Icarus said...

I don't find that remotely accurate for me.

Lisa said...

The screen vs the page issue is complicated by what else besides letters are on either screen or page. As I write this, I notice the computer dock and the bookmark toolbar running across and up and down my screen with all the various icons involved. Then the actual website, with tiny photos and different colors and symbols. Different categories and types of information - some I expect and want to see, some of which are irrelevant and need to be ignored.
No wonder it's difficult for some people to concentrate and not skim or jump around the screen. I read a great deal of short fiction online, but nothing will ever replace having a book in my hand, and the tactile pleasure of turning a page. It is also relaxing for the reason the computer screen is agitating - generally speaking, the only things on a paper page are letters and occasional numbers. It's easier to settle down, to concentrate - you aren't required to make sense of anything that appears unexpected on the computer screen.

paisley said...

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....

Shell said...

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 about\debate 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.

Chumplet said...

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 said...

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 said...

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.

Sminthia said...

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 said...

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.

pseudosu said...

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.

TALON said...

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 said...

It has only decreased the time I spend actually working between my long bouts of procrastination.

JDuncan said...

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.

Lupina said...

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. said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Jordyn said...

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.

NotJana said...

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 said...

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.

JES said...

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 said...

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.

LitWitch said...

I think email is the worse culprit.

Lisa said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan,

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!

nymeria87 said...

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 said...

anon-

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.

Erik said...

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.

150 said...

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.

bookboy28 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

sylvia said...

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.

*mutter* *whinge*

Beosig said...

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.

Beelissa said...

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.

punchbuggyblue said...

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.

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