“Nobody reads with their finger on the page while mouthing the words anymore – how can someone *really* engage with a text if they don’t physically need to touch the words and sound them outloud?
And what’s this crap about cutting up books into tiny, short-attention span size “pages”? A book is a continuous organic medium – the only appropriate way to consume it is on a roll of vellum.”
The words above come from my friend Marios Richards, not me. But he so perfectly skewered a certain reaction to change, that I had to share it.
Google’s Tom Uglow recently gave an interesting interview in which he discussed experiments in telling stories in different ways. I think this work is fantastic, and I’d love to see where it takes us. But he also suggested that the short forms of content we read a lot of at the moment mean we aren’t reading as deeply, and that’s an idea I just can’t get behind.
There are a whole bunch of false assumptions behind that idea. It assumes that the majority of people used to read big, dense texts, rather than the short forms that have often been popular in the past, or widespread illiteracy that existed when many works of ‘great literature’ were written. It assumes that we read short texts passively, in isolation, without bringing together the different ideas presented as we would in a book. In short, it focuses on the individual text, not the reader and how they use it. And it treats that unattended reader as a passive chump.
I’ve seen far more nostalgic, patronising takes on this idea. It’s one Tom Uglow only references in passing, before moving onto the awesome innovations he’s involved in pushing. But this nostalgic view of past literary glory versus modern shallow reading is nonsense. It’s a reaction against innovation, and as Marios highlighted, it could be brought out at every stage in the development of writing.