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Reading Blogs Makes you Stupid? July 1, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, science.

Along the lines of things that make us less smart than we might other wise be, is this article in The Atlantic (warning – long article):

His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

The article, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, talks about the new way of absorbing information – lots of short sips in the form of web pages we rarely stay for very long. We go about the web and collect links to longer articles, but we never go back and read them. Our consumption of books is dropping. Long investigative articles? Apparently those are down too. We just want the 3 line summary.

Even email — I’ve had people tell me that if I don’t make my point in the first 3 lines of my email they ignore me (and this is from people that work for me). Of course, that may be for other reasons.

I have stopped reading books too. There are three reasons for this — one is definitely the computer. The number of magazines I read has also gone down. The sweet thing about the web is you can always find the summary. If you want to think, or learn – which is hard and takes work – you really have to go against the flow. After all, the point of a search engine isn’t to make you think. It is to get you an answer.

So, how do you get around this? I find I have to schedule time to read articles or otherwise sit down and think. Unfortunately, in a tight schedule, this is the first type of time that gets canceled.

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

This seems to have some similarities to the end of the scientific method post.



1. Meri - July 2, 2008

I still read quite a few books – several a week if I have the time.

2. gordonwatts - July 2, 2008

Meri — that is great. Keep it up!

3. Kea - July 2, 2008

I’m a web junkie, just like they describe, but I try to look at it positively. If I really wanted to, or I had the time, I’m sure I could still sit down and read a good book. But why should I? We’ve only had this amazing new tool for a couple of years. Why shouldn’t we make the most of it?

4. gordonwatts - July 2, 2008

Yeah — but is it like a drug? Too easy to use so we stop doing what is difficult — like critical thinking? At any rate, I might say something like that, but I have to say, I’m not reading as much as I used to!

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