Is this the future of reading?

I’m preparing for a talk on the future of reading and decided to keep track of what and how I read today.

So, I started my morning checking e-mail, which involves two steps, my main e-mail (work) and my gmail (fun). In my gmail, there was a link to an article in the NYT about Ebooks. The brief blurb sounded interesting, so I followed the link. I’d read two sentences when a link to an article about cilantro caught my eye, so I clicked. At that point, my husband came in, saw I was reading the article about cilantro, which he had read the night before, and we had a conversation about it (cilantro has always been a point of contention for us — I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cilantro, but I digress). I thought it would be fun to post it as a link to Facebook, so I did.

Facebook, need I say more?

A half hour later, I looked at my laptop with the Ebook article and promised myself I’d get back to it. Now, I started my real work, finishing an intro for an article I’m completing. For the next hour, my reading consisted of the draft and supporting materials (printed). Then, I needed a mental break, so decided to do some laundry and listen to a TED talk.

Before I left for a noon meeting, I checked e-mail. A friend had posted a question for me on Facebook. I spent the next ten minutes writing a response and then realized it would make an interesting blog entry, so spent another twenty minutes formatting my response for my blog.

After my noon meeting, a friend and I went and played with the iPad at the Apple store. I can’t remember anything I read except Winnie the Pooh and something from Stephen King. I don’t know whether that’s a reflection on the iPad reading format or my memory.

Once at home, I read people’s comments to my Facebook post, spent another hour revising my blog, and returned to Facebook again.

Then I returned to my draft for a while. After all the usual evening stuff, I’ve checked and responded to a few e-mails and it is only now, at 9:30, as I write this that I realize I never read past the first two sentences of the E-book article that started my day.

Is this the future of reading? Despite my best attempts, if I have access to e-mail or Facebook, I’ll check it. If I can look up something — relevant or irrelevant — to what I’m reading, I usually will. I work with two laptops: one has my e-mail and I use it to look up fun stuff on the Internet and the second is completely for work. I did this to create boundaries, but it doesn’t work. The fun laptop sits beside me, always open, ready to share e-mail. The work one tends to spend more time sleeping, unfortunately. Even though I know the data about attentional focus, how we do not multi-task, how it takes a significant time to re-focus mental resources on serious work, I tell myself I’ll just check something really quickly…it will only take a minute.

What I disliked in my brief playtime with the iPad was that  I can’t quit out of any applications. There’s a decision that occurs when you quit out of something…it’s closed. With the iPad, like the iPhone, users just click on the next thing, serially leaving unfinished business in the ether. There’s no sense of closure or completion.

I’m not saying anything new here, but with print materials, readers can walk away from the tempting distractions of technology. We can focus on a specific concept or idea and quiet our mind enough to stay with this one idea. We’re not haphazardly jumping around. We’re not becoming hyperlinks.

Today felt like hit-and-run reading to me, where I skimmed many surfaces, but never fully dived in. I don’t want this to be the future of my reading experience. After several years with the Internet, I haven’t figured out an effective strategy for tuning out, which concerns me and makes me wonder how the rest of us are doing.

Your turn: Over the next few days, could you pick a day and keep track of what you read and how you read it (online, print, skimmed, read all the way through, interrupted to check e-mail, etc). Feel free to share your diary as a comment here or e-mail it to me. I look forward to hearing about your experience.

One thought on “Is this the future of reading?

  1. I absolutely support your take on the future of reading. The whole concept of reading has undergone massive changes with the advent of computers and handheld devices.

    I’ve been trying to read a few books on the British Council Library’s e-reader, but haven’t been able to take-in and retain much of it in my memory. It’s just as if I’ve been staring at the pages and skimmed through them. It was just too distracting!!!

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