People who value acts like the reading of novels worry whether other forms of reading — especially quicker ones, like the quarterback scanning the defense, or a video-game player scanning the dangers confronting his or her character — are displacing the kinds of reading that require longer, slower kinds of attention. And this is a legitimate worry. But I wonder whether the physiological commonalities I have pointed to could, if we are thoughtful and imaginative, provide a way to get people who are already skilled at fast-twitch reading to develop their skills at slow-twitch reading. It might be that these activities are not as alien to each other, as opposed to each other, as we commonly think. That’s something I’m trying to work out in my own mind, anyway.
I sure hope he’s right, because the Internet has really degraded my ability to read patiently. As I write this, I’m skimming through about thirty other tabs. I don’t want to believe that Google (or WordPress) is making me stupid, but my attention span (and attention to detail) is now irrevocably keyed to a fast-paced diet of blogs, g-chat messages, and Facebook status updates. Over Christmas break, I had to consciously force myself to ignore the Internet. Any reading that involves delayed gratification – a longish article, a how-to manual, even a favorite book – has become exponentially more difficult.
There are undeniable benefits to quickly absorbing and processing information and commentary. I’ve learned more on a wider variety of subjects while blogging (and interacting with other bloggers) than at any time since college. But I miss effortlessly immersing myself in a good book (or even a guilty pleasure). And if I was forced to choose between “fast-twitch” and “slow-twitch” reading, I think I’d fall squarely within the traditionalists’ camp.