I don’t read enough these days. Well, let me put that another way: I probably read loads, but all of it on my computer or Ipad. It has been ages – years, possibly – since I last sat down and read from a book. The truth is, it is’t that comfortable for me to do so any more: I struggle to hold the book still, and turning pages seems to be much harder than it once was. I find it generally a lot easier to just sit at my desk and read from my screen, or have the computer read it to me. The problem with that is, I then only consume the short, direct, largely artless prose one finds on the web. I suppose that’s okay, if you only want to read news articles and facebook updates; yet part of me misses the more involved, elaborate writing you only find on printed pages. Surely that is what proper reading is.
While I have my excuses, however, I worry that this problem is much more general. Nobody seems to be reading anymore. A combination of the Web and celebrity culture means that most people seem to have the attention spans of five year olds. Everyone wants everything delivered in snippets or clips. If it isn’t happening at that very moment, people loose all interest. You only have to look at Saturday evening television and the editing of programs like Strictly Come Dancing to see this MSG-type entertainment. While that might be just as well – who am I to judge what other people watch? – I fear it turns us all into shallow, uncritical consumers as opposed to analysts aware that we are being shown something for an underlying reason. To read anything properly you must engage with and think about what you are consuming; in this sense reading is, by definition, an active process.
I suppose that’s why I miss books: sitting down with a text written by a single author allows you to truly engage with a subject; thinking is actively encouraged. Browsing the web might be far easier, but on it you can only glance at a subject rather than read about it. I fear that superficiality is the direction we’re all heading in.