Ask Slashdot: Because of Social Media, Are We Reading Fewer Books?

Long-time Slashdot reader
destinyland writes:

Twitter did something that I would not have thought possible: It stole reading from me,” argues a former New Yorker writer (who was once nominated for the Pulitzer Prize). In a new piece in the Atlantic this week, they argue that Twitter “hacked itself so deep into my circuitry that it interrupted the very formation of my thoughts…”

“For the past few years, I’ve felt a strange restlessness as I read, and the desk in my bedroom is piled with wonderful books I gave up on long before the halfway mark. I had started to wonder if we were in a post-reading age, or if reading loses its pleasure as we age — but I knew that wasn’t really true… I had suspected for a while that my reading problems had something to do with Twitter, and several times I’d tried leaving the phone in another room — but it was no good. Twitter didn’t live in the phone. It lived in me.”

Maybe it all comes back to brain plasticity — the idea that our brains adapt to whatever activities we’re doing the most, in a kind of “accidental optimization.” But what happens if we feed our minds a continual diet of quick bursts of information? It’s what I call hit-and-run reading — skimming headlines, comments, comment headlines, tweets, pictures on Instagram… Doesn’t it seem like that would have some kind of impact?

I once spoke to a trial attorney who complained about the ever-shortening attention spans of juries…

I’m still haunted by a free 37-minute documentary I saw two years ago on YouTube called Bookstores: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content. It followed Max Joseph, the former host of the TV show Catfish (and the documentary’s director) as he spoke to several reading experts (including a speed reader) about how he could form better habits. But at one point he calculates he was spending 20 minutes a day just on news, plus another 30 minutes a day on social media — which adds up to 304 hours a year that could’ve been spent reading books. (Enough time to read 30 books a year.)

And along with that goes the mental exercise of retaining an entire books’ worth of material in your brain at one time. (The documentary even suggests that in our busy world, reading becomes a kind of “forced meditation.”) So does your focus come back if you just keep on reading books?

I’ve been forcing myself to stay offline for one day a week, to at least create the time for revisiting that stack of unfinished books by my bed. But is that enough? The Atlantic’s author titled their piece, “You Really Need to Quit Twitter.” After describing how it had somehow stolen the joy of reading, the piece closes by asking, “What is it stealing from you?”
What’s been the experience of Slashdot readers? Share your own thoughts and stories in the comments.

Are we reading fewer books because of social media?

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