Writers' Ink at Caledon Public Library

Are we forgetting how to read?

Photo by WINNIE T. FRICK

“For myself I know I’m not reading less, but I also know I’m reading worse. It’s no wonder why. Spend your life flashing between points of transitory data and a dog-eared novel begins to feel interminable.”


from “I have forgotten how to read” by Michael Harris in Globe & Mail Opinion, February 9th, 2018

“For most of modern life, printed matter was, as the media critic Neil Postman put it, ‘the model, the metaphor, and the measure of all discourse.’ The resonance of printed books – their lineal structure, the demands they make on our attention – touches every corner of the world we’ve inherited. But 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.”


“Author Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) writes that,’digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts’. We become, ‘more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli’. So I throw down the old book, craving mental Tabasco sauce. And yet not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.”

“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. What’s at stake is not whether we read. It’s how we read.”

“A cynical style of reading gives way to a cynical style of writing. I’ve watched my own books become ‘useful’ as they made their way into public conversation. I never meant them to be useful – in a self-help sense – but that was how they were often read.”

“Maybe that change into a cynical writer can be forestalled – if I can first correct my reading diet, remember how to read the way I once did. Not scan, not share, not excerpt – but read. Patiently, slowly, uselessly. Books have always been time machines, in a sense. Today, their time-machine powers are even more obvious – and even more inspiring. They can transport us to a pre-internet frame of mind. Those solitary journeys are all the more rich for their sudden strangeness.”


About Alton Chapter

The Alton Chapter of Writers' Ink meets the 1st Wednesday of the month from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Alton Branch.

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This entry was posted on January 4, 2019 by in Writing Advice and tagged , , , .

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