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Is short always smarter and better than long?

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Don’t you mean is long always smarter and better than short?  That is what I might have said before. Carlin Romano describes in “Will the Book Survive” the challenges involved in getting college students to read books.  I pulled the above question from the paragraph below.

Destructive cultural trends lurk behind the decline of readerly ambition and student stamina. One is the expanding cultural bias in all writerly media toward clipped, hit-friendly brevity—no longer the soul of wit, but metric-driven pith in lieu of wit. Everywhere they turn, but particularly in mainstream, sophisticated venues—where middle-aged fogies desperately seek to stay ahead of the tech curve—young people hear, through the apotheosis of tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, and sound bites as the core of communication, that short is always smarter and better than long, even though most everyone knows it’s usually dumber and worse.

I am not sure about his next point–that people don’t want to read because they can’t interact with the author.  Of course today, one trick of publishers to help authors succeed is to set up a blog in order to promote their books.  Hmmm, maybe he has a point.

Another cultural trend propelling the possible death of the whole book as assigned reading is the pressurized hawking of interactivity, brought to us by the same media panderers to limited attention spans. It’s no longer acceptable for A to listen to B for more than a few minutes before A gets his or her right to respond.

Next, Romano sounds like Nicholas Carr from The Shallows when he refers to Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (PublicAffairs, 2009):

Darnton notices what many other professors also see in young people: “A generation ‘born digital’ is ‘always on,’ conversing everywhere on cellphones, tapping out instant messages, and networking in actual or virtual realities. The younger people you pass on the street or sit next to on a bus are simultaneously there and not there. They shake their shoulders and tap their feet to music audible only to them inside the cocoon of their digital systems. They seem to be wired differently from their elders, whose orientation to machines comes from another zone of the unconscious.”

Maybe he is hard on the youth of today but perhaps you, like myself, have seen the following scene:

Many college-age sorts study their phones, put them away to try to focus on something else—the passing scenery outside the Amtrak train, a magazine, the old-fashioned book they’ve brought along—then yank the phones back out three or four minutes later and start tapping away again. Reading a book, however, requires concentration, endurance, the ability to disconnect from other connections. You have to be there rather than not there. Hyperwired young people may be making it to age 17 without acquiring that ability, let alone losing it.

Another worthwhile read on the subject is a post on The Art of Slow Reading by Patrick Kingsley.

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