Tuesday, 23 November 2010

5. Post Internet Reading Habits

Recently, at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight wrote a post called "Your Reading Habits Post Internet."  He asked a series of important questions related to this topic.  I have been thinking about this topic, and jotting down some notes.  Here are my thoughts.
Genuine reading draws into history and creates memory. Internet information-shaped reading is an assault on both history and time. Real reading taps into emotions, while internet reading mostly deadens our emotional life.
Whew.  Do I agree with this?  Is all internet information-shaped reading not "real" or "genuine" reading?  I suppose it really depends on what one is reading on the internet - and what one is reading elsewhere.  For example, there is a great deal of "book reading" that itself is an "assault on both history and time," in my opinion.  Most Harlequin Romances fall into this category.  Most best-selling newspapers (gossip-rags) too: although they do reflect a certain kind of creativity, lol.  Same with a great many "self-help" books.  And endless numbers of religious tomes. 

On the other hand, a great many "classic books" are available on the internet now (and growing in numbers every day).  I'm not at all sure that reading them on one's computer or Kindle or other electronic device, rather than in traditional book form, is going to change one's interaction with the content.  (Though there is something comforting about "book" books.  Still, that might only be because they are what I grew up with.  Young folks might find e-books more "comforting," I suppose.  On the other hand, as they spend so much time texting, tweeting, dashing off facebook statuses, and so on, I do have to  wonder if they actually take the time and patience to sit down and actually read anything longer than 240 characters in length?)

But this quote specifically says "information-shaped reading."  What does that mean?  Does it have to do with the incessant "here and now" texts and tweets and chats, in which practitioners of those arts constantly dash off little spurts about the minutiae of their everyday lives?  Which then drift off into cyberspace, supposedly stored and recorded somewhere out there.  But will our descendants, a hundred or a thousand years from now, dig through all that stuff?  And if they do (poor things), what conclusions will they draw?  How will they describe early-twenty-first century "civilization"?

I love reading historical documents.  I have copies of my own and my mother's and my grand-mother's and my great-grandmother's autograph books.  I am constantly intrigued by the different poems and notes and ditties of the different generations.  In some ways, those little books are a sort of "status" or "tweet" communication of their generations.  I also have copies of diaries and personal letters.  And even essays written in school and college.  I feel I have met my forebears, and have known them quite deeply.  Will future generations feel that way about the writing we are producing? 

Even blog posts seem to be getting shorter, though more frequent.  Apparently one can create a much larger following by dashing off quick, point-form posts, rather than the longer, serious, deeper (and yes, more emotional) posts common to early blogging.  Quantity over quality?  "Lite" vs thoughtful? 

When I was in university over 30 years ago, studying historical geography, I read Susannah Moody's "Roughing It in the Bush."   Now THAT "draws into history and creates memory."  I challenge you to read it - I challenge myself to read it again - and then compare it to what we are producing on-line.  Is what I have been producing on-line going to draw in generations to come as Susannah's diaries?  I fear not.  I have, of course, produced my own stories of my life and my family's life, and the world as I've known it (you can find some examples here and here  and here  and here  and even here on this blog).  But I fear they have been dashed off and posted in a way that is slap-dash and "lite" compared to Susannah's memoirs. 

Will even my well-over-a-hundred handwritten journals and diaries, and the few letters I have saved, "draw into history and create memory" for coming generations?  Will they even care to read them?  Will they have time or patience?  I wonder

"Internet reading mostly deadens our emotional life."  Maybe that's true.  Maybe that's why we most often just scan most "information-shaped" writing, which itself has already been boiled down to "basics."  Maybe that's why so many people are willing to spend money for "blog e-books" which give at least a bit more information than the usual posts, and in doing so, hopefully draw the reader in a bit deeper.  Maybe that's why book-club-gatherings and writers-groups and "meet-ups" have become so popular. 

Maybe the whole "information" thing is over-rated.  Maybe we NEED fiction: whether the orally-passed-on myths of the past, or the more recent written forms, sagas and theatre and fiction novels.  Maybe we NEED that sense of gathering together around the campfire, and hearing, in oral or written form, the stories of the past that give us a connection to the lives of the human race over time, a connection that makes us part of the great story.  That gives us a sense of belonging.  That causes us to share in the emotional and spiritual life of humanity.  That helps to make us whole and alive. 

And yes, we need to become part of the great Story. His Story.  A story that lives in relationship and gathering and His Life and Love. 

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