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The Death of Deep Reading

We’re going to see what we almost always see with new gadgets, which is the makers of them compete on how many new features they can put into the device.  So we’ll see multi-functional e-readers, e-readers that will allow you to have social networking going on when you read, that allow much more types of hyper-linking, the introduction of videos and audio streams into books and so forth.  

Individually, each of these features may be attractive, but what they all tend to do is distract us and break that ability to really immerse ourselves in a book, in a story, in an argument.  That's the kind of deep reading skill we learned with the arrival of the printed book.

After the introduction of the printing press, we saw an explosion in forms of writing, in experimentation, in very complex arguments and stories and novels committed to print.  And all of this came about because writers had the confidence that they were writing to people who could pay attention, who could stick with a story or an argument for a long period of time in the form of a book. 

As we begin to break that assumption, writers have to begin to write for a reader they know is distracted and isn’t going to be able to have any kind of single-minded attentiveness to the text. What we’ll probably see is a retreat from that expressiveness and that experimentation into more simpler forms of writing, more broken up forms of writing.

And you can see this in a lot of non-fiction books these days that have subheads three subheads every page or so.  This all reflects the assumption that people take in information in little chunks and nuggets and don’t really have the ability or are losing the ability to immerse themselves in the text and pay attention.  

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