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I have forgotten how to read

“For a long time Michael Harris convinced himself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate him from our new media climate – that he could keep on reading in the old way because his mind was formed in pre-internet days. He was wrong.”

Quotes

Cynical readers

...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.

[...]

When we become cynical readers – when we read in the disjointed, goal-oriented way that online life encourages – we stop exercising our attention. We stop reading with a sense of faith that some larger purpose may be served. This doesn't mean we're reading less – not at all. In fact, we live in a text-gorged society in which the most fleeting thought is a thumb-dash away from posterity. [...] For myself: I know I'm not reading less, but I also know I'm reading worse.


Just another thing on the internet

One of the attendees wears a T-shirt depicting Harambe, the zoo gorilla whose death had been an Internet sensation shortly after Dat Boi faded from memory. Marantz asks him to explain it: “‘It’s a funny thing people say, or post, or whatever,’ he said. ‘It’s, like—it’s just a thing on the internet.’” Marantz pauses to emphasize his own familiarity with the sort of numbness that goes with experiencing “much of life through the mediating effects of a screen,” and observes, “It wasn’t hard for me to imagine how anything—a dead gorilla, a gas chamber, a presidential election, a moral principle—could start to seem like just another thing on the internet.”


Primed for distraction

The suggestion that, in a few generations, our experience of media will be reinvented shouldn't surprise us. We should, instead, marvel at the fact we ever read books at all. Great researchers such as Maryanne Wolf and Alison Gopnik remind us that the human brain was never designed to read. Rather, elements of the visual cortex – which evolved for other purposes – were hijacked in order to pull off the trick. The deep reading that a novel demands doesn't come easy and it was never "natural." Our default state is, if anything, one of distractedness. The gaze shifts, the attention flits; we scour the environment for clues. (Otherwise, that predator in the shadows might eat us.) How primed are we for distraction? One famous study found humans would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 10 minutes. We disobey those instincts every time we get lost in a book.


Remapping the neural circuitry

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. [...] Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.


Scuba diver in the sea of words

As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.


The “So What?” Test

If you’re unsure about whether to share something, let it sit for 24 hours. Put it in a drawer and walk out the door. The next day, take it out and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my boss or my mother seeing?” There’s nothing wrong with saving things for later. The SAVE AS DRAFT button is like a prophylactic - it might not feel as good in the moment, but you’ll be glad you used it in the morning.


Unfilled moments

Unfilled moments, moments where you don’t have entertainment, or moments where you don’t have companionship, may actually spawn creativity. Certainly a lot of 19th-century romantics thought that.

Being still with yourself can give access to all sorts of ideas and musings that wouldn’t otherwise occur. So perhaps in our quest to end boredom our creativity is being stunted, and we’re actually becoming more boring.


The internet sucks

The internet sucks because people keep pretending that it's a vital utility that supports all government, industry and commerce instead of a place to make silly jokes and argue and make web pages about things you like. The internet was a nice little house party with you and two dozen friends and cool acquaintances. The air and the vibes had that quality to it that anything could happen. An orgy. An indie film. Getting hammered and doing insane stunts. Something magical. And then government agents busted in and jumped up on the tables demanding people use coasters and kept changing the playlist under gunpoint and media companies flooded it with shills trying to get people to try their products or sign up for horrible subscriptions and take pictures of everyone all the time. And then they started bussing everyone's parents in. And grandparents. And your boss. And then they locked the doors. That's the internet.

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