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How the Internet Changed the Way We Read (dailydot.com) 148

An anonymous reader writes: UC Literature Professor Jackson Bliss puts into words something many of you have probably experienced: the evolution of the internet and mobile devices has changed how we read. "The truth is that most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words, but instead of reading novels, book reviews, or newspapers like we used to in the ancien régime, we now read text messages, social media, and bite-sized entries about our protean cultural history on Wikipedia."

Bliss continues, "In the great epistemic galaxy of words, we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers. ... Reading has become a relentless exercise in self-validation, which is why we get impatient when writers don't come out and simply tell us what they're arguing. ... Content—whether thought-provoking, regurgitated, or analytically superficial, impeccably-researched, politically doctrinaire, or grammatically atrocious—now occupies the same cultural space, the same screen space, and the same mental space in the public imagination. After awhile, we just stop keeping track of what's legitimately good because it takes too much energy to separate the crème from the foam."

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How the Internet Changed the Way We Read

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  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @06:11PM (#51228065)

    tl;dr

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Maybe someone can make a video and put it on YouTube.
    • by ChoGGi ( 522069 )

      /. did not disappoint, thank you kind Sir (or Madam if the SJWs are circling).

      • Oh no, you won't escape the indignation. Just like you tried with "Happy Holidays" to dodge the religion bullet, all you got was overzealous Christians going ballistic on you for not wishing them a "Merry Christmas".

        Give it a while and people will be all over you for thinking that they're a "Madam". For I want to be a victim of your prosecution and I won't let you dictate whether you prosecute me or not!

    • Well, the only thing you really missed from TFA is this great quote, which was intended to talk about NPR online articles, but applies equally well to Slashdot... and particularly the comments right here in this thread:

      every one of its articles now bleeds with its comment section, much of it written by posters who haven't even read the article in question--essentially erasing the dividing lines between expert, echo chamber, and dilettante, journalist, hack, and self-promoter, reportage, character assassination, and mob frenzy.

  • Not gonna read this (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @06:14PM (#51228083) Journal

    With that much excessively verbose pomposity in the summary, the article must be insufferable.

    • by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @06:16PM (#51228091)

      Yeah, just checkout this introductory paragraph:

      Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
      Thy micturations are to me,
      As plurdled gabbleblotchits,
      On a lurgid bee,
      That mordiously hath blurted out,
      Its earted jurtles,
      Into a rancid festering confectious organ squealer.

      • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @09:43PM (#51228767)

        UCI - My school!

        Okay, Dr. Bliss needs to have a thesaurus removed from his colon, wherein it was undoubtedly placed by some angry freshman, but the point is an interesting one. Back in the nineteen hundreds, when to access information we needed to leave home and drive to a public building called a "library" and carefully select printed works of interest, we absorbed information only when we specifically intended to. The mechanics of this process forced us to remember specific authors and publications as being our sources. And the distribution paradigm was always one-to-many, information flowing from authors through their august gatekeeping Publishers to the plebeian eye.

        Today, it's raining 'content'. The lordly Publisher, and his retinue of pimply-faced grad students who made sure that only approved Major Authors made it past the slush pile, is all but gone. Because we can search effortlessly in a world of diverse data, we no longer have to depend on a few authors we trust to define the culture we live in. And furthermore, we can now talk back. One-to-many distribution has become the shrieking of many-to-many. This confuses quite a few of us.

        • One-to-many distribution has become the shrieking of many-to-many.

          When you say it like that, it sounds like an improvement.

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          And there's a great deal of garbage that's not readily distinguishable from the real thing. Witness:

          http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/ [elsewhere.org]

          • Whatever this was, it no longer comes up. Just a blank page.

            • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

              Huh. Dunno why. Works for me, even without javascript. Just curious, what browser? SeaMonkey 2.39 here.

              • Safari 9.0.2

                • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

                  Huh. I'd understood it's usually less sensitive to website oddity. Well, not this time!

                  • Guess what: Just tried the site again and, this time, it comes up.

                    Yes, the postmodernist movement was an academic high-water mark in the development of abstruse language. The Pomos became so difficult to communicate with that they eventually lost the ability to mate with humans and died out. According to legend, the grave of the last Pomo is unmarked because academics could not agree on what discourse to put on her tombstone.

                    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

                      Perhaps it just needed to know you were sincere!

                      I believe your understanding has reached maximum velocity. :)

        • Im pretty sure back in the 1800s and early 1900s, before TV and decent radio, the masses were fairly ignorant of current events outside the town fair. Knowledge of anything besides the absolutely practical for surviving the month was hard won and often the privilege of the wealthy or well-reputed.

          I'll trade that for having to shove aside Kanye West infotainment to gain easy access to pretty much anything I want to know about without moving my thumb more than 4 inches at a time.

      • OMG! it's Judith Butler! No wait, she's tunnelled away at UC Berkeley in the Rhetoric Department. Anyway, this academic is just doing what they all do: find an old idea (the f-scan has been around since the first manual was put into print. Find the general topic chapter. scan the paragraph headings. Find a heading that seems like the subject you are interested in. Scan the paragraph for the keyword on he topic you want. Fail? repeat until you get your info. Ignore the rest) Take the idea shine it up, spin
      • Too bad that's not in there, your short paragraph is more readable than the actual articl.
    • Give him a break, he's a Literary professor. Words are his life....:)

      .
      I don't care how much a man talks, if he only says it in a few words. - - - Henry Wheeler Shaw

      • With a hobby of pointing out which novels are literature and which ones are trashy pulp for the masses?

      • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:38PM (#51228415)

        Give him a break, he's a Literary professor. Words are his life...

        Even allowing for that - when someone uses a phrase as ridiculous as "incestuous words", it serves as a warning flag telling me they almost certainly don't have anything to offer beyond pomposity.

        • Even allowing for that - when someone uses a phrase as ridiculous as "incestuous words", it serves as a warning flag .

          I saw a porn named that once.

          • Even allowing for that - when someone uses a phrase as ridiculous as "incestuous words", it serves as a warning flag .

            I saw a porn named that once.

            "Warning Flag"? Heh, yeah, I saw that one too. I watched it twice, actually. 8 out o10 on the "Stroker" scale.

        • Here seems to be the crux of his complaint:

          We now skim everything it seems to find evidence for our own belief system. We read to comment on reality (Read: to prove our own belief system). Reading has become a relentless exercise in self-validation, which is why we get impatient when writers don’t come out and simply tell us what they’re arguing.

          Of course, the notion that this is somehow new and different is utter tripe. Does anyone think that some magical, golden age existed in which wordsmiths could sway the hearts and minds of the masses? My goodness, how *dare* we have our own opinions, rather than relying on the words of others to shape our thoughts.

          Typical ivory-tower nonsense. You're missing nothing by skipping this article.

        • Agreed. "Incestuous words" puts a whole new spin on oral sex and only proves the adage, that if it can be put on the Internet, there will be porn of it.

          This librarian has found a way to create thesaurus porn, but thesaurus porn does not satisfy any of my particular perversions. So I have not read his article.

          besides, tl;dr.

    • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @06:23PM (#51228113)

      I skimmed it and you're right. Sweeping generalizations tossed in a word salad.

      I just spent 6 hours reading Heinlein on e ink, so I humored him. Meanwhile, the same has been said in fewer, clearer words for at least 5 years now, with predictions of same around the time facebook, texting, and news aggregators went mainstream. Each time, that is.

      Take old news and wrap it in New paper.

      • Yeah, they guy is obviously ignorant of the world around him. Before the internet, the twitterverse was sated by trash print like The Inquirer.

        And before that, writers were paid pennies for crap short stories to fill the pages of industry rags. There was trash out there for any level of intelligence. For every Heinlein contributing to these rags, you had a hundred thousand worthless "writers" filing copy for pay.

        Nothing has changed in the CONTENT or PRESENTATION, it's just easier now than it ever was for

    • by ljhiller ( 40044 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @06:24PM (#51228123)
      I literally did not understand what he was saying (the the quoted summary). I don't have the patience to decode what he's trying to say in this convoluted mess of word salad. Why doesn't he just come out and state his thesis? Maybe I'll just look him up on wikipedia.
      • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:05PM (#51228293)

        I literally did not understand what he was saying (the the quoted summary). I don't have the patience to decode what he's trying to say in this convoluted mess of word salad. Why doesn't he just come out and state his thesis? Maybe I'll just look him up on wikipedia.

        I like his unintentional humour: "which is why we get impatient when writers don't come out and simply tell us what they're arguing."

        Long-winded prose, which uses 1000 words when only 10 are needed, used to be confined to academia. But now, thanks to the interwebs, it's everywhere.

        • don't think that was the point... used to be a writer until the world lost its attention span... figured out it was a waste of time to spellel anything correctly punctuate capitalize or otherwise write well in this new age of five second attention spans... still can't bring myself to use "u" as a word yet but give me time
          • well played

            1 no sentence caps
            2 use 3 dots instead of any other punctuation
            3 drop your pronouns

            and 4 spelling of coarse

      • u win teh inet 2day.

    • With that much excessively verbose pomposity in the summary, the article must be insufferable.

      +5

    • With that much excessively verbose pomposity in the summary, the article must be insufferable.

      Methings the learned scholar is taking great umbrage at this perfidy, and possibly needs gruntled.

      • Needs gruntled? Is that correct english?

        Anyway , if the article is using difficult words that does not mean the author is overstretching himself in order to appear smart. When people use jargon, they may be using the most specific word possible even if simpler words would also do the job. They may want to be accurate as well as eager to show that they know the subject well.
        It does not follow the author doesn't make sense. I know some extreme examples personally. Outrageously complicated words but somehow al

        • Needs gruntled? Is that correct english?

          I don't think so. A woman who worked with me used to say that all the time when we were talking about someone being disgruntled. Anyhow, I always though it was a cute saying - although she said gruntle much better than I.

          Anyway , if the article is using difficult words that does not mean the author is overstretching himself in order to appear smart.

          No, but his choice of words, at least to me, tends to lead me away form what he is trying to accomplish. "Incestuous" for example. Yes, he uses it correctly, if in a fairly obscure manner. But the visions of incestuous relationships between family members comes up, then I have to play catc

          • He needs to eschew obfuscation.

            right :) And I had exactly the same reaction to the use of 'incestuous'. But the issue he raises is worthwhile and instead everyone focuses on his insecurity.

    • It's like I tell my friends and co-workers, "I don't talk like everyone else. I speak in a manner similar to others."

    • This UC professor may most charitably be described as a clockwork loony. It has been a rare privilege to read such turgid pseudo-intellecual garbage.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Go fuck yourself

  • The Internet has brought a glut of information, information packed in small bite-sized pieces, e.g., text messages, tweets, social media posts, etc.

    .
    Such a large amount of information has to squeeze something out, imo, what has been squeezed out is a lengthy attention span. The media audience just does not have anything approaching a lengthy attention span for reading anymore.

    That's why websites are so anxious to sell whatever piece of your attention span they can muster to advertisers. That's why web

    • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:22PM (#51228351)

      I disagree. I don't think it is the attention span. I skip reading things if the author has not clearly stated his/her point within the first 3 paragraphs.

      From the summary:

      The truth is that most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words, but instead of reading novels, book reviews, or newspapers like we used to in the ancien régime, we now read text messages, social media, and bite-sized entries about our protean cultural history on Wikipedia.

      What does the phrase "incestuous words" mean?

      Why is "continuously" used in the same sentence with "perpetual"?

      How is "cultural history" associated with "protean"?

      The problem isn't the attention span. The problem is trying to figure out what someone is really saying. Electrons are cheaper than ink. That does not mean it is acceptable to pack in the adjectives and adverbs just because you don't have to pay a printer.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        He's using "Protean" (which should be capitalized) to mean "changing." It comes from the Greek myth of Proteus, but the professor (who is clearly an idiot) does not know that, which is why he does not capitalize the adjective derived of a proper noun.

        He simply uses "incestuous" incorrectly. Likely, he is used to dropping "provocative" adjectives into his academic writing as if that made him somehow less boring or more meaningful. Instead, he simply comes across as shallow and stupid, like most modern lan

        • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:43PM (#51228429)

          He's using "Protean" (which should be capitalized) to mean "changing."

          That is what I suspected. The problem is that "history" should not be "Protean".

          Instead of

          ... our protean cultural history on Wikipedia

          I would suggest "our Protean culture". Or even "... our changing culture".

          I am reminded of The Eye or Argon.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eye_of_Argon [wikipedia.org]

          • Wikipedia is a great place for historical revisionism. I just edited an article about France to make history realize that the French lost all their wars because they were too busy having sex with cheese to fight off the dirty huns. Now this fact will appear in countless undergrad term papers. Eat your heart out, Proteus.

          • He's using "Protean" (which should be capitalized) to mean "changing."

            This is what I suspected. The problem is that "history" should not be "Protean".

            Instead of

            ... our protean cultural history on Wikipedia

            I would suggest "our Protean culture". Or even "... our changing culture".

            I agree that the author's prose is unnecessarily wordy and trying to be too " clever."

            But you missed the point here -- history shouldn't change (well, at least not in the common imagination; historiography shows us otherwise), but it DOES change on Wikipedia. Not only is Wikipedia continuously being edited and updated, but people here are always talking about the excessive coverage of random pop culture topics... and that of course is continuously evolving. You can actually see it happen as a pop cultu

      • I disagree. I don't think it is the attention span. I skip reading things if the author has not clearly stated his/her point within the first 3 paragraphs.

        Protip: Don't bother with Tolstoy - it can take him 100 pages to make his point clear.

        On the other hand, you'll miss out on some amazing literature.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      My experience is that I skim a lot more noise than I used to, but when I do find something worthy paying attention to I will happily slow down and read it properly. And because of the increased volume of available material I read a lot less crap than I used to because there is too much good stuff to waste time on the rubbish. After all, why would I waste time reading some poorly written, sensationalist "now feel scared" newspaper article when there is content just a few clicks away that might actually tea

    • That's why websites are so anxious to sell whatever piece of your attention span they can muster to advertisers. That's why web page advertisements constantly try to hook and reel in your attention.

      And that's how we get Honey Boo, Little people who own pawnshops and cut logs in swamps, and in their spare time hunt alligators.

      Because as time has moved on, the stupid people have gained access to technology that only smart people once used, and lo and behold.....Twitter!

      People such as myself still have the attention span we used to, and the interent becomes a treasure trove for our personal research

      The stupid, or those who have a shorter attention span than a goldfish http://time.com/3858309/atten [time.com]

  • After awhile, we just stop keeping track of what's legitimately good because it takes too much energy to separate the crème from the foam.

    I don't know why he thinks this would be that difficult. Low-quality stuff is written in the vernacular, and truly valuable literature and discourse uses assimilated foreign words with accents unnecessarily. I'll bet that checking for the high-order bit would be good enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is not a new phenomenon. I remember a lawyer giving me her newspaper at the courthouse when I was 8 or 9. After a few minutes of watching me read it column to column and page to page she said "You're supposed to just skim it."

  • TL;DR (Score:5, Funny)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:02PM (#51228277) Homepage Journal

    TL;DR: Kids these days.

  • He's speaking for himself. With the way he writes I would expect he'll get minimal readership. Apparently he missed out on the centuries old idea of a good thesis and support structure.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:21PM (#51228339)
    Plenty of us still read books, too. Note the market for regular paper books is not dead, and e-readers are quite common. There is "internet reading" and real reading. Like there is fast food and good food.
    • by movdqa ( 1122661 )
      I still read novels, articles, old books, etc. from time to time but I do it mostly on electronic devices. I have over 3,000 books at home on a variety of topics and I still use them from time to time. The electronic stuff is just so much more convenient. If books are dead, why do we have an Authoress like JK Rowling with incredible book revenues? I don't think that reading is anywhere near dead but, then again, I don't really do social media stuff either.
    • I picked up a book once. It was heavy and looked like effort. So I jumped on wikipedia and read the "plot" section and left satisfied.

      Note to the humourless: I was kidding.

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:21PM (#51228341)

    most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words

    Remember kids, that's where portmanteau words come from.

  • by Cowclops ( 630818 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:21PM (#51228345)

    I'm not even making a slashdot-type "nobody reads the article" joke here - literally no one anywhere is going to read the article when you use high-level SAT words and phrases like:

    incestuous words
    regime (not referring to a country's leadership)
    protean
    epistemic
    doctrinaire

    If its supposed to be ironic, I get it, but if its not then you failed miserably and don't even understand your own ideas.

    I think its good to have as big of a vocabulary as possible and I actually recognize most of these words or could figure it out from contrast, and I consider myself to have a fairly above-average vocab due to having an English teacher for a Mom, but repeatedly using "big" words like those is just a shortcut to letting us know you're an asshole without much to say.

    tldr version:
    tldr.

    • by tsqr ( 808554 )

      I actually recognize most of these words or could figure it out from contrast

      I figured out what you meant there from context. And, I agree completely with your point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No, it means YOU are the philistine and cannot understand the things the adults are saying.

      You don't even know what philistine means, do you? It is the attitude of anti-intellectualism that undervalues and despises art, beauty, spirituality, and intellect. A philistine person is an individual who is smugly narrow of mind and of conventional morality whose materialistic views and tastes indicate a lack of and indifference to cultural and aesthetic values.

      How can you say he is "an asshole without much to

    • While I agree with most of that, what do you have against the use of the word regime in that context? I certainly find it a lot more commonly used than referring to leadership.

      The rest of examples I agree are verbal self gratification, but regime in common use when I hear it is a way of doing something, like a workout regime or a daily regime.

    • by clovis ( 4684 )

      Totally agree.
      The article didn't embiggen my vocabulary, and it was annoying to read. Plus, I would not have used "epistemic" like that.

      Also, give me your lunch cookie. If you don't, I'm going to tell you mom you left out the comma after "I think its good to have as big of a vocabulary as possible".
      There's more, but I'm saving those for later

  • Legitimately good? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @07:58PM (#51228473) Homepage

    Who's to say what is "legitimately" good?

    There are several points of view that all encompass "good." A piece of writing might be
    - funny
    - insightful
    - artistic
    - emotional
    - provocative
    - motivational
    - well-crafted

    Each of these (and other characteristics) might characterize writing as "good" even if it doesn't possess all of them.

    In other words, beauty (or goodness) is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A minor correction: A piece of writing might be:
      - funny
      - insightful
      - informative
      - offtopic
      - flamebait
      - normal
      - troll
      - redundant
      - interesting
      - overrated
      - underrated

  • If it is changing the way we read it's making people forget how to spell,punctuate, use proper grammar and think before they hit enter.
  • I, for one, still prefer hardbound dead tree versions.

    So you can join the rest of the oh-honey-look-it's-the-new-shiny-shiny-64G-Orgasmatron-from-Cupertino-that-I-traded-for-Princess-Leia-in-a-slave-girl-outfit-worshipping crowd.

    In other words, the rest of your attention deficit is stuck back there with your gadget.

    • I, for one, still prefer hardbound dead tree versions.

      I'm with you, my dead-tree appreciating brother.

      A Kindle or a real book? I'll take the real book any day.

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Saturday January 02, 2016 @10:15PM (#51228849)

    Wow. I had no idea literate people found this level of prose the least bit difficult. The ornate lexicon in the summary text dented my customary reading speed hardly a yod.

    But then, when I clicked through to the full article, my eyes refused to focus anywhere in his text. Apparently my Joo Janta 300 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Neural Implants went into filter mode, removing the black letterforms while leaving behind only the whitespace between and around the words and letters. (Obviously, this is not an optical process, but hooks somewhere deeper into the visual–cognitive semantic stack.)

    I've never even remotely figured out how this works. I take a brief glance at a wall of text, and even before I've consciously read more than a phrase or two, some subliminal thesis detector goes "nope, no cigar" and then my eyes defocus into paragraph at a time mode and pretty soon I've assessed an entire piece from end to end without having read a full sentence anywhere.

    So I figure, "there's no farting way my brain could be passing judgment on a complex text while skimming at this speed" so I randomly force myself to read a sentence or two ... word ... by ... painful ... word and just about every time, same end result: no thesis detected.

    Maybe this is why I've never really understood the whole TL;DR meme. Closest I ever come is TF;GO (too fuzzy, glassed over).

    Length, as such, has nothing to do with it.

    • by kackle ( 910159 )
      Yes. YES. YES! I have noticed the same thing!

      I read a lot on the Internet and off, mostly technical stuff. I find much is poorly written, in the end only conveying a confusing or pointless message. Somehow, though, I've noticed that often I am skipping over entire paragraphs that my eyes "don't want to read". I assumed it was some sort of temporary mental laziness, so I would force myself to go back and painstakingly read the text, sentence-by-sentence, only to find again and again that my eyes we
  • ....because real Literature professors use words like 'epistemic'.

  • Reading has become a relentless exercise in self-validation, which is why we get impatient when writers don't come out and simply tell us what they're arguing.

    Well before I started using the internet I've always been impatient with writers who don't say what they're trying to say. The internet didn't change that. I'm sorry, but I've never liked fluff; and honestly never got the whole obsession with reading between the lines and interpreting other meanings from something that 'should' be implied by what the author was writing. It's probably why I would get frustrated with how I loved to read, would read more than most of my peers, but would struggle in English cla

  • ... which is why we get impatient when writers don't come out and simply tell us what they're arguing...

    How ironic.

  • Interesting article to read on a site that made it's name shortening full news stories to a paragraph; on which still only around 20% read the full article.
  • There used to be a time when the writing on the internet was for reading.

    Now, it's just to generate clicks.

    The only metric that anyone uses of the quality of the writing is the clicks and so the only thing that shows up everywhere is click-baits.

  • ...is there nothing they can't ruin?
  • Another way of looking at it is that text used to be scarce due to the cost of publishing and distributing it, so people read a lot of crap, like the musings of impoverished Frenchmen or the escapist poetry of disenfranchised Germans. These days, people actually read stuff that matters to them: writings by people they care about, dating profiles of people they can actually meet, stories about places they can actually visit.

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