"How long is it?" has replaced "Will I like it?" The students' finicky inclinations, as well as my own recent hasty approach to reading, bothered me enough to try to trace the root cause. I suspect that the tipping point in information overload has tipped. Students' aversion to reading does not necessarily signal a weakness, much less a dislike of reading. For them, and now maybe for me, moving on to something else is an adaptive tactic for negotiating the jungle that is our information-besotted culture of verbiage.Read all … yeah, right.
These kids manage to survive by bushwhacking through the muddle -- while seamlessly dealing with an e-mail, a Word document or a 50-page PDF from the scholarly database JSTOR. It's taken them just a few years to arrive at the same conclusion that I've reached after a lifetime of sustained reading: The pursuit of knowledge in the age of information overload is less about a process of acquisition than about proficiency in tossing stuff out. By necessity, we spend more time quickly scanning manuals, king-size novels, the blogosphere and poems in the New Yorker than we do scrutinizing their contents for deeper meaning.
This is the price we pay for the changed demands in reading. Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff defines this new reading terrain as "the paradox of our age." We've grown into a culture of searchers, not readers. "Surely, we have never read, or written, so many words a day," Schiff writes. "Yet increasingly we deal in atomized bits of information, the hors d'oeuvres of education."
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Why Kids. Can't. Focus.
A librarian bemoans the avalanche of information that students -- and other readers -- must try to master today.