Periodically, someone blames the interwebs for declines in attention span and amount of reading people do. I’ll cop to the first. As I spend more time online, I find myself unwilling to devote the time necessary to watch the news, listen to a discussion on the radio, or watch a movie. All these things I used to do without hesitation now seem to take so bloody long.
You’ll note that I didn’t talk about reading. That hasn’t changed…well, unless I’m in the middle of an online argument, that is. Nope, books get all the time they need, without complaint. My only complaint is that there isn’t time for more of them.
So what’s the difference? Why are my viewing and listening habits changing when my reading habits aren’t? Information density.
I’ve been spoiled by tabbed browsing and information-rich websites. When I’m sitting in front of a screen or a speaker, I’m all too aware of how much more quickly I can read than someone can speak. Inflection and expression just don’t add enough additional data to fill in and make the medium worthwhile.
All the extra processing power has to go somewhere. My fingers twitch to be productive in the pauses, but they’ll reach for text if I let them do anything. My attention wanders down tangents and alleyways, looking to make the kinds of connections I can make online. Instead, I lose the main thread. If I do keep myself focused, I over-analyze. I get critical of the smallest points or spoil my own fun.
Luckily, there are things I can still watch, like the excellent surreality of shows like Life on Mars (highly recommended–see the British version before the US team totally screws it up, cause that’s what they’re doing). I can watch short videos that illustrate a point and films where close observation of human behavior is the point. For just about anything else, though, like the convention speeches, I’m reading transcripts.
And contrary to what the internet pundits say, I’m reading more than ever.