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Is Reading Webpages Really Reading?

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Ann Althouse has an interesting take on this NY Times article (“Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?”). She certainly thinks that it is different, but that reading books is not the only or best way to read. What is particularly interesting is this quote:

I definitely think that reading on-line restructures your brain. That may be bad in some ways, but it’s got to be good in others. In any case, it’s where I am now. I still read books, but I read them differently, for example, I cut to the essence quickly and spring into alert when I detect bullshit. I’m offended by padding, pedantry, and humorlessness.

This reflects well with me. I am a voracious reader of what I call “current affairs”. This ranges from political and market/economic news to its in-depth analysis. I enjoy diving into a book and the different style it presents in comparison, but only when I can devote large chunks of time to it (such as when I’m on vacation, sitting on a beach or poolside).

In the same way, while in graduate school, we had a large amount of required reading from a variety of sources: papers, case studies, texts, the Internet, etc. After a short while, I was able to adopt much of my Internet reading style to these different media to absorb most of the authors’ discussion with minimal reading of the superfluous.

One thing that you learn to be comfortable with, when reading via the Internet, is the variety and quality of sources. A reader, as Althouse alluded, is stretched to quickly find the base meaning and filter for bias. (My good friend Paul blogged regarding a web reader’s attention span here, as it applies to the web marketing of churches.) This can be applied to a variety of sources, but can make longer passages and books difficult. As it says in the NY Times article: “‘It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,’ said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State. ‘In a tenth of the time,’ he said, the Internet allows a reader to ‘cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.'”

You also find that a great writer can make subjects that traditionally are dry and boring quite the opposite. One of my favorite personal blogs is James Lileks’ Bleat. He talks about all sorts of odd things in his daily entries, but his observation of them is what’s interesting. This isn’t literature out of some musty (or brand new, tough-to-hold-open) volume, but it is still great writing that is easily available to me.

This article gives rise to a number of questions for readers:

  • What are your thoughts on Internet reading?
  • Do you think, as a community of bloggers/readers, we are merely confirming our own beliefs in posts such as this and Althouse’s?
  • Does it bother you that complex ideas tend to be so heavily summarized on the web (or do you subscribe to the idea that brevity is the soul of wit)?
  • How would you describe your reading style (does it differ in terms of the media from which you are reading)?

Please discuss these in the comments.


Written by walonline

July 27, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Posted in internet, Life

Tagged with , , ,

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