I just read this article in the Atlantic about how the Net has changed the way the article’s author thinks. He’s wondering what the larger, societal effects will be. Being The Atlantic, he’s also savvy enough to realize there may be unintended good consequences that can’t be predicted, in addition to the negatives he highlights.
The article gave me pause. Upon reflection, I believe he’s right. Ten years ago, usability expert Jakob Neilson was doing studies that showed people skim online, they don’t read in depth. And it’s pretty clear from anyone who’s spent five minutes in a browser that we jump from topic to topic pretty quickly.
I know that my own writing has changed. I used to love writing longhand in a lined pad, and now can barely form a sentence without having a text editor where I can cut and paste. And as for reading? My tolerance for reading long non-fiction books went away years ago. I inch my way through them now. So do I absorb complicated new information that requires Thought and Contemplation? Er, not nearly as much. Maybe it’s simply that I’m older and busier, but it’s true that the Net has habituated me to sound-bite style reading.
That’s one big worry for my upcoming Get-it-Done Guy book, in fact. Part of the reason it is organized as many, many small micro-chapters is that I don’t believe anyone’s going to read a 200-page book straight through. And if I want to give readers value, it has to come in a form they can use.
How about you?