Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hollowing Out the Habits of Attention (part 2)

In my earlier post on attentiveness, I lamented the decline in book reading that has become a regular feature of contemporary life.

Most people realize that reading is in decline, as distractions like the i-phone, Facebook and text messaging assert their hegemony over our mental spaces. Professor Katherine Hayles, who teaches English at Duke University, expressed the concerns of many when she confessed, “I can’t get my students to read whole books anymore.” When English graduates don’t even like to read anymore, you know things are getting serious.

What has bypassed most people, however, is that the main reading problem we face as a society is not simply that people aren’t reading enough; rather, the real problem is how we read. Increasingly, we find that when people pick up a book, they often come to it with the same set of expectations they bring to the internet. Activities like Facebook and Twitter exert their dominion over our minds precisely because they condition us with a certain set of expectations that become ubiquitous and which remain with us even when our computer or i-phone is turned off.

More specifically, our constant saturation in digital distractions is training us to be satisfied with triviality, to be content with dialogue that is shallow, brief and disconnected. In short, we begin to expect books to give us the same buzz that an i-phone provides, and when it doesn’t, we quickly get bored.

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