One big thing v. many small things

On average, people don’t read as many books as they used to before because what we want to read has become available in more forms. We read articles on the web, tweets and posts on the social media, emails, WhatsApp notes and whatnot. This is why, while reading a book is still considered a unique experience, we don’t deserve as much derision. We’re still reading a lot, just not in books.

Now, what if we applied the same line of reasoning to writing? Do people write just as much as they used to before? The answer’s likely “no”, that the average person writes more these days because the volume of interpersonal communication that is textual has increased, so we spend more time composing WhatsApp notes, emails, tweets and posts on the social media and, of course, commentaries and blog posts on the internet.

If we’re reading and writing just as much, if not more, then what have we lost?

I think we’ve lost, or least we’re losing, the ability to read or write one big thing even though we can read or write many small things. The average reader of the 21st century does have a famously low attention span while the average writer – a.k.a. the arm-chair commentator on Facebook and Twitter – is adept at composing quick-fire opinions and bite-sized posts.

This is not a problem that technology can fix because the technological solutions already exist. Instead, it’s a question of adoption, of people moving as a society towards a slower yet more thoughtful mode of information dissemination. How can this be made to happen?