Long form reading: it was a fun game while it lasted
Humans love to make up rules for themselves that require them to act counterinstinctually.
That’s what games are.
Did you ever play that the “floor was lava” when you were a kid? You had to get around the room while walking on the furniture (jumping from couch to chair), so you didn’t “burn up”?
If something scared you and you just took off running, you wouldn’t climb around on the furniture…you’d make a straight line across the floor.
We think it’s fun to make ourselves behave in ways that are hard, or unnatural.
In addition to managing a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I also managed a brick-and-mortar gamestore, so I’m pretty familiar with them.
We not only think it’s fun: we think it’s virtuous.
Think about sex (you know, if you weren’t already). ;)
There are all kinds of rules about what you can show to whom when.
You might counter that other animals (which you might define as not having intellects, but just reacting instinctually…I don’t, but you might) sometimes have elaborate mating rituals.
Yes, but ours vary from culture to culture, which shows that they aren’t ingrained.
What you could show in New York City one hundred years ago isn’t the same as what you can show now.
If you violate the rules, someone might insult you by calling you an “animal” (again, using it as shorthand for “unthinking”).
I’ve hired and trained a lot of trainers, and one of the things I look for is someone who is able to think about one thing while doing something else.
I have a pretty simple test for that.
I tell someone to stand up and tell me what in their lives brought them to this moment…without using the word “I”: go!
Most people are terrible at it…they may lock up completely, or be able to go for a few seconds before they make a mistake.
Someone who will be a good trainer makes it work right away, and could go for minutes. One thing they do is refer to themselves in the third person. Instead of saying, “I grew up in Chicago,” they say, “There was a person, me, who grew up in Chicago.”
In order to get a good assessment, you have to try this spontaneously (I used to be part of an improv troupe), so you can’t prepare yourself.
As soon as that’s over, though, they go back to speaking normally.
My point is that people are able to make themselves do things which are unnatural, but that it takes effort. They’ll revert back to the natural behaviors, given a choice.
Unnatural things…you know, like walking on your hands…or reading a novel?
I would guess just about everyone reading this blog has had a reading session with one book which was at least an hour long.
Is that a natural thing to do?
I don’t think so.
If you were a hunter/gatherer, I’d have a hard time coming up with one thing you would be doing that would require your undivided attention for an hour.
Stalking an animal doesn’t take that long, usually…and you sure better be paying attention to other things while you do it!
Someone can sit with their “nose in a book” for an hour, paying the rest of the world no heed.
Or at least, they used to be able to do that.
looks a the scientific concern that we are losing the ability to read in a linear fashion for a long period of time.
This isn’t because the quick skimming reading we do on the internet is evolving us in a new direction.
I don’t think we ever really evolved in the old one.
Before Gutenberg (mid-1400s), books were rare objects…and arguably, largely in the hands of people who weren’t part of the breeding population.
Mass market paperback books, which made novels much more available, only go back to the 1930s…maybe four or five generations ago. That’s not enough time for evolution to have changed anything in our brains.
I think for a while,we have “played the game” of reading long form.
Just like playing Blind Man’s Bluff, though, when the game is over, we are going back to what feels more natural.
From the article (which I recommend):
“[Maryanne] Wolf, one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the internet and hundreds of emails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (at AmazonSmile).
“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organising my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
As Wolf knows, the brain adapts. It’s really, really good at that. We also aren’t the only species that does it (in my opinion).
We recently got a second dog, after having gotten another one several months earlier.
The first dog is now behaving much better, taking on the role of “supervisor”.
I am quite convinced that the first dog is “proud” of sitting patiently, waiting for food…behaving in a counterinstinctual way.
If you process information on a website by your brain bouncing all over the screen, looking for significant words, its only natural that it would try to do the same thing with a book…making comprehension and retention perhaps more difficult.
My guess is that the website version, which would be like scanning a jungle looking for prey or a predator in a tree, is much more normal.
If we don’t have to do long form, linear reading will we lose the ability to do it?
Quite possibly: I believe it is a learned skill, not inherent.
What do you think? Is reading the same book for an hour harder now than it used to be for you? Have you noticed any change in kids (especially if you are a teacher)? Would losing that ability be such a bad thing? Should e-books perhaps adapt, maybe having pictures appear and disappear on pages? Is it because it is such a hard thing to do that people want no interruptions when they are “trying to read”? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help!
** Does Amazon pay royalties when one of their employees sings Happy Birthday over Mayday? Is that a commercial use…or, collectively, a public performance? I don’t know that they should, I just think it’s a possibility
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.