It’s a sad fact that our attention spans have shortened – considerably. Today, even goldfishes tend to have a longer attention span than us, and we can decide whether we want to carry on reading, watching or playing something within a matter of seconds. There’s no surprise there; things are available much faster than ever before, so why wouldn’t we come to expect instant gratification from all forms of media? Why wouldn’t we demand to be hooked as soon as we turned the first page of a novel?
I tend to characterise this instant desire for gratification in the same vein as the popularity of eBooks. Now, I know that most people still prefer a paperback to an eBook, and I don’t blame them, but I think the major issue lies not in the way that readers consume a novelist’s or a poet’s works, but in the way that writers actually create their art.
I’m not limiting this issue to just eBooks, either – it’s all to do with how much we need to read on the internet and, to be perfectly honest, the sheer amount of just crap writing that there is out there.
The ‘F’ Pattern Of Reading
Now, as we’re scrolling through text, we tend to read it in an ‘F’ pattern until we find the information we’re looking for. It’s an entirely pragmatic, and understandable, idea – we read the top line, scroll down, read another line, scroll down, et cetera. It’s the quickest and easiest way to find the most relevant information. I’ve even found myself doing it more than once (normally after a Guinness or two).
People who have grown up with computers and, particularly, the internet, are hard-wired by themselves to do this by default now. Even if we’re reading a book or a magazine, our eyes ill want to get to the information we’re looking for – ignoring the fact that we’re reading for entertainment, education or even just to say we’ve read the damn book.
Now that so much is published digitally, even academic works and essays, it is so easy to simply skim-read them instead.
I tend to think that this ‘F’ pattern is indicative of the entire attitude towards reading, an attitude certainly supported by the format of eBooks.
Are eReaders Distracting Us From Our Books?
One of the major problems with the Kindle, and other readers, is that it is so easy to ignore your reading and concentrate on something else instead. If you’re reading on your phone, for example, and you get a text you’re going to close the book down and swipe on over. Or you might want to check Facebook, or Twitter or your emails.
It’s great that we have these devices which we can do so much with. What isn’t great is the way that these fantastic, fascinating devices are changing our minds and limiting our attention spans.
In my experience, I’ve seen that a lot of people are reading eBooks as little as a paragraph at a time, when they’re waiting in line for coffee, when they’re on the bus or even just in the bathroom. This should, should, have created an attitude where people really take the time to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the writing, appreciate the more poetic imagery and truly go in-depth when analysing metaphors.
Today, even if someone says they enjoy reading, that doesn’t mean they do. It means they like having read things, to appear clever or for something to talk about. There are very, very few people, in my experience, who actually enjoy the act of reading. You’re probably thinking that that sounds pretty haughty of me, as though I’m giving myself some kind of superiority. You’d be right, but then I’m a raging narcissist.
The eBook: Content Diversity And Hyperlinks
Despite the numerous attempts to take advantage of the form and create new and exciting forms of interactive literature (video games have already got that covered) there hasn’t really been much in the way of success. Although there is always something floating around in literary circles talking about the potential for greater interactivity through hyperlinks to webpages and so on, we’ve yet to see anything like that manifest itself in a way that actually adds anything.
I spend a lot of time at my day job talking about content-richness and diversity (blah blah blah) but do we really want our novels, our literature, to be diverse? To be interrupted by videos and musical cues like a semi-interactive cut scene in a videogame? It sounds like a good idea, but it is essentially useless to include other media in our text. With video games and interactive media offering such a fantastic range of possibilities, there isn’t really anything innovative, or being added, by hyperlinking to other content from within your eBooks.
Writing In The Post-Kindle World!
Now that readers are shifting into the ‘F’ style of reading, and with all the other issues that are associated with shorter attention spans, writers are changing the way that they create in order to appeal to them – well, most writers anyway. There is the desire to produce a ‘good book’ rather than anything actually worth the time it takes to read.
Language is used completely practically today, to get from one point of the narrative to another. It’s a very practical, efficient way of writing that w have developed, with no time wasted on the possibility of beauty, of creating lines that roll around the tongue, that sear themselves onto the consciousness.
Today, the narrative is more important than the form of its delivery for most readers, which goes back to the idea that people prefer to have read than to read. It’s not surprising that writer’s like, say, George R.R. Martin are named as great writers, whereas they are more like storytellers. To be perfectly honest, I’m struggling to name a truly fantastic writer from the past few years.
Of course, the major advantage of the ease of digital publishing is that, now, anyone can write – anyone can get their opinions and narratives out there, anyone can try to exorcise their demons through the written word. I had hoped that this would result in new and unique literature, that the voices with no medium might be given the opportunity to shine through – unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have happened.
I mean, you only need to head on over to Smashwords to see what the freedom of digital publishing has to offer – romances which aren’t well-written enough for Mills&Boon, erotica that has all the sexual nature of a brick and bad, bad fantasy rip-offs where the plucky teenagers can defeat the evil dark lord/king/emperor through the power of friendship!
If you’d like to help bring my astonishing egotism down a peg or two, feel free to download one of the free eBooks on your left and let me know how bad you think it is!