July 27, 2008

Does reading on the internet count as reading?

Your mom thinks you should read a book.
[L]ike so many other teenagers, Nadia, 15, is addicted to the Internet. She regularly spends at least six hours a day in front of the computer...

Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A’s and B’s at school, read books for a change. But at this point, Ms. Konyk said, “I’m just pleased that she reads something anymore.”
But I'm not your mom. I'm reading on line all the time too. If 6 hours counts as "addicted," then I'm so addicted. I spend a fair amount of time wondering if I read all the time or not reading much at all.
Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age....

At least since the invention of television, critics have warned that electronic media would destroy reading. What is different now, some literacy experts say, is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google or even britneyspears.org, entails some engagement with text....
Thanks for reading my blog... I mean... having some engagement with my text.
Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision.
Oh, really? You can't flip around in a book? Read part of one book, put it down, pick up another, run over to the dictionary, pick up a notebook and write a few sentences, check the index, go to another page, write some marginalia? What a lame-ass book-reader you are!

And, damn, I hate these book-proponents who think what is so superior about books is that they control you in a linear fashion. The fact is they don't. Only movies do that. If you want to train us to have sustained, linear attention, make us go to the movies. But why is it good for us to be controlled by an author like that? Let's be free and active.
On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.
Horrors! Freedom!
Young people “aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that doesn’t go in a line,” said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University who is studying reading practices on the Internet. “That’s a good thing because the world doesn’t go in a line, and the world isn’t organized into separate compartments or chapters.”
Spiro's right. And I appreciate the attention to the detail in the phrase "some of us older folks."
“The question is, does it change your brain in some beneficial way?” said Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University. “The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment. Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our brain will try and deal with it.”

Some scientists worry that the fractured experience typical of the Internet could rob developing readers of crucial skills. “Reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode,” said Ken Pugh, a cognitive neuroscientist at Yale who has studied brain scans of children reading.
I definitely think that reading on-line restructures your brain. That may be bad in some ways, but it's got to be good in others. In any case, it's where I am now. I still read books, but I read them differently, for example, I cut to the essence quickly and spring into alert when I detect bullshit. I'm offended by padding, pedantry, and humorlessness. This may cut off some paths to enlightenment for me, but it also saves me a lot of time, and I find some other path.
Web proponents believe that strong readers on the Web may eventually surpass those who rely on books. Reading five Web sites, an op-ed article and a blog post or two, experts say, can be more enriching than reading one book.

“It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,” said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State. “In a tenth of the time,” he said, the Internet allows a reader to “cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”


vbspurs said...

Hell yes it counts as reading.

When I attended 11th grade here in the US, our English Lit teacher told the class that he'd count comics books as part of our "Read 5 hours per week" extra credit.

My jaw dropped. That would never be countenanced in my British school (both were private, but the American one was heavy on "electives").

The internet is the world's largest library.

Give the kids a break.


greenpoint said...

Prof. Althouse -

Another spot-on post -- I completely agree with you!

BTW, any relation between your LA trip and the new Pamela Anderson ad on the blog?

lurker2209 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara (Pal2Pal) said...

Readers read, whether it be advertisements on the bus or subway, backs of cereal boxes, comic books, the backs of baseball cards (how my son learned to read), the newspaper, a good book, the Internet, it doesn't really matter.

Like Ann, I read online hours a day, but when I want to relax, I head for the best seller paperback rack at the grocery store, get a novel and escape into someone else's life for 200,300,400 pages or so.

lurker2209 said...

Well the Times has finally realized something young people have long known. Fifteen-year-olds who are into anime read and write fanfic! And fanfiction written by 15-year-olds is almost universally horrible and generally only read by other teens who also disregard the rules of grammar and use text messaging abbreviations. It's ok. They grow up, learn actual grammar rules and become better writers.

The internet in general requires you to be an editor and choose what is worth reading, rather than mindlessly accept what is put out on the front tables of Barnes and Noble. One key skill is the ability to recognize in a few sentences if a blog post, fanfiction story, technical help, etc, is worth reading and to move onto something else if it is not.

But here's the thing, though: the best type of engagement in internet reading can lead to further connections with the literary world. For example, I would have never read Euripides, Hesoid, or Nabokov if I hadn't been motivated by a Battlestar Galactica fanfiction story I'm writing. And some of the most insightful, philosophical commentary about right and wrong and humanity has been found on various BSG websites and discussion groups I visit.

Donna B. said...

I love the linear aspect of movies and novels. Going along for a ride with the author is fun. Sometimes.

Padding... ugh. I hate that most on blog posts. The writers are trying to be old-fashionedly linear and I'm usually going to click away quickly.

For some reason, I find it much easier to skim the padding in a book than I do online.

AmPowerBlog said...

I'm online now, as a blogger, all day sometimes. I'll read the newspaper in hardcopy and on the web, multi-task with a baseball game or an old movie, while I cruise web checking for the hottest news controversies. A blog post follows shortly thereafter.

But I take time every day to read. I have about three or four books going currently, plus I keep up with print periodicals and scholarly journals. I make it a point to get out and read at Barnes and Noble in the afternoons or on weekends, and I read every evening. For me, the online life enhances and improves my teaching and thinking. Online communications seem to be integral to the life of the mind in the digital age.

American Power

veni vidi vici said...

online reading has always analogized better to magazines than to books, in my opinion, which is why these stories usually only inspire me to ask, "why did this journo even bother?"

did anyone else find it humourous that the guy lamenting the lack of "straight lines" in online reading has a name that sounds like "random spiral"? delightful!

Anonymous said...

I'm back with experience in these matters.

I read lots as a grade school kid, not so much in high school because from my freashman year on I worked part time jobs. When i moved overseas to get married I gave up reading most any literature or books because there were none easily available to me. I concentrated on reading German instructions which were very visual in nature at times, and I read short German magazine articles. I spoke mostly English. I can tell you that my English vocabulary suffered some because at the age of twenty i just didn't further that. My German vocabulary increased and my logic of grammar increased in a German type way.

With kids my reading consisted of reading tons of children's books from Eric Carle to Richard Scary to foreign (translated) czech authors to worldless picture books to Brian Jacques 500 page children/adult novels with fake animal languages in their texts. My vocabulary differed. My graphic abilities grew.

Then at age 36, double the age of high school graduation, I finally was at a place in my married with children life where all three of my children were gone for at least 6 hours. I got back to reading lots of historical fiction.

After two years of that, came the computer and the internet, which offered still another kind of reading, but also writing and games like tetris. Games offered competion. Forums offered reading and writing where i was initially very grammar conservative, no longer that way.

Down the road came photo deluxe and printshop on Windows which offered me another kind of skill in reading as in basic typographical design. Later photoshop and quark class arrived in my life which furthered skills in designing of books. Even further was 3-d software like lightwave which offered some mathematical functions into that repetoire and more text based knowledge.

RIght now I no longer have a television or cable. (well, I have one that doesn't work.) I don't watch movies. I go to see one movie per year in a theatre because that's all Pixar releases. I don't rent dvds.

Some people would call me an idiot, but I really believe there is more to reading than a book. I have about twenty book boxes that have more frequent flyer miles than some CEOs have. I won't give up my books even if moving them so many times is a pain, but reading is so much more than these books. And the interent helps provide so much of it
It's reading
•musicical notes,
•beats to a drum,
•tracks in the snow reinforced by walks in the park.
•recipes reinforced reading with doing
•elementary html and css
•garbage on the beach,
•my grandkids faces when I don't understand the words
•mathematical equations that swirl a ball on a screen
•forums and blogs
•one pixel out of place when I was photoshop obsessive
•the exposue and level controls of light
•helvetica vs. ariel Thanks to my mac

Abe Lincoln would even approve and walk through the snow to get a hook up, I bet.

Anonymous said...

my mom also thinks i am addicted to the internet. However, I think they can't be in a house without a TV. Maybe that is why i don't get so many visitors.

I don't complain that much when they watch jeopardy and wheel of forutne at the dinner table. I understand it keeps their minds sharp. My mind is still sharp, too, and this internet addiction is just to make sure I don't go over board on my physical sports addictions or being outside under what the skin cancer society will tell me is the mean cruel sun. The same one that ups my very own happiness level.

John Althouse Cohen said...

But I'm not your mom.


You're always telling me not to read a book!

Great point about movies.

I wonder what the people who are making the anti-internet arguments think about the fact that they're being quoted on a blog. Paradox!

Ms. Hortencia Neighhew said...

Professor Althouse fails to parse two important issues.

1. Are you addicted to the Internet ?

2. The differences between fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction, for reference purposes, may indeed work better online.

Fiction, and the ancient art of storytelling...... I don't think so.

An addiction is where you are in the grips of something; it has power over you, and you can't pull yourself away, even if you wanted to. A good page-turning book, that's un-put-downable.....

Would you rather be dependent on a machine -vs- dependency on linotype, ink, acid-free paper and binding.

Beth said...

Only movies do that. If you want to train us to have sustained, linear attention, make us go to the movies.

Not if you're watching a DVD - you can skip around from scene to scene as you wish.

Jake said...

My mom's addicted to the internet.

Beth said...

our English Lit teacher told the class that he'd count comics books as part of our "Read 5 hours per week" extra credit.

My jaw dropped.

VB - technically, I guess I assign "comic books" in some of my English lit classes on the university level. I did a special topics in graphic novels last year, and out of 28 students enrolled, only one had dropped by the end of semester. The favorite of the assigned texts turned out to be Alison Bechdel's memoir "Fun Home."

Craig Landon said...

My 14yo daughter is fully versed in the internet teen/chat/blog scene, RL Stine, "Twilight" obsession, etc. I monitor it, but am not real shot in the ass with it.

So last week she started -- much to my surprise -- reading Pride & Prejudice (her favorite DVD), writing down the daunting words in a little notebook.

Yesterday, she came back from the book store with 3 other Jane Austin books plus a pocket dictionary with which to look up the words she didn't understand.

My jaw dropped, too.

Books work in mysterious ways.

Ms. Hortencia Neighhew said...

Families that sit together in the parlor, sans hosiery, have bigger problems than internet addiction.

EJP said...

Movies do that? You've never heard of scenes on a DVD? Or clips on YouTube?

I've never heard of someone who read a work of fiction in anything by a linear fashion, but I dare say that "clips" are the dominant way in which movies are consumed.

Further, most everyone multi-tasks while watching movies and TV - case in point, I'm watching a movie right now while surfing the web on my laptop.

On the larger topic, I think unquestionably, the internet caters to the ADD crowd and distills everything down into its atomic components. Movies become scenes, articles become snippets, books become quotes, and it's all remixed into infinite combinations.

It's still an open question as to whether this really *causes* short attention spans or spells the end of long form entertainment. Frankly, I think those arguments are so far unsubstantiated.

ricpic said...

Read a book? Cover to cover? Dem days is done forever for me, and I suspect for most. Read around in a book. Now that's more like it.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I can't read the internet in bed. I can't lay on my side to read and the laptop smacks me in the face when I fall asleep.

There is something about reading books that is more intimate than the same words in pixels on a screen. I love to buy used books in yard sales and second hand stored. You often find little clues and hints about the person who used the book last.

I once found a love note in the pages. How sad. Somebody took the time to write a missive of love and it ended up in the Goodwill bargin bin. Did the romance not work out? Did the woman who received the note misplace it and wishes she had it back?

Notes written in the margins of the book or passages underlined. Why did they think THAT was important. Slips of paper from colleges that indicate the last owner was a student at Eugene Oregon in 1973. Wonder what they are doing now? Do they still have the same political leanings?

Trooper York said...

What a great idea. I just put a love note in the book on my wife's night stand. Thanks for the tip.

Donna B. said...

That's sweet Trooper.

One bad thing about reading online is eye fatigue. Another is having both hands free to hold food and drink, though to be fair humans do that quite well with books.

Trooper York said...

Hey Donna, I think all the guys should put a love note where the love of their life could find it.
Theo could put it in the kitchen somewhere for his wife to find as she prepares dinner. Maybe in the bread box as she gets out the bagets for the evening meal. Bissage can put on the comfy chair under the pillow where his wife sits when she knits as they watch TV. Randy can put it near the tea set where his wife can find it when she prepares a little tea before they retire.

And RH can just slide it under the door of the coop.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Are there, you know, words coming up on the screen ... or something else? You can speak (or hear) words. You can write words, or you can r-e-a-d them. Obviously it's reading, but that's not the point -- which is an implicit assumption of inferiority.

I read books voraciously; entirely non-fiction. Apart from my busy season (I farm for a living) I usually read 800 to 1200 pages per month, overwhelmingly history.

That said, I read even more enthusiastically on the web -- mostly history, economics, and politics, along with a few favoured blogs.

Why? Because I can scan incredibly broadly in a brief time, dropping into detail as needed or desired.

Even though I'm a very fast reader, that's just not possible with books. Most periodicals are now stuck in broad-but-very-shallow. Books are deep-but-narrow.

Television? Well I haven't had one since 1967.

Web reading fits extraordinarily well with my overall pattern of thought ... until I wish to spend an hour or more immersed in understanding the indirect impact of water-powered mills on the patterns of 13th century land tenure and management.

ricpic said...

Some speckled hens are quite fetching.

Trooper York said...

Maybe so but the ones in RH's coop are neveila to the max. Just sayn'

The Exalted said...

the truly horrific section the article quotes from the girl's online fiction site (where she reads 45 whole web pages!) should leave everyone happy she is reading at all, imo.

Ms. Hortencia Neighhew said...

Funny, that a woman who expresses repeated distaste for pedantry and pedigogical devices.....a woman who eschews books....

--- would take a job as a University Professor!

Ms. Hortencia Neighhew said...

Jaltco: Are the same people who insist they aren't addicted to the Internet....the same ones who swear they aren't using caffeine as a crutch ????

I guess you can justify anything !

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trooper York said...

Thanks Ruth Anne, I know I really married up.

And I take good care of the girls.

rhhardin said...

The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment.

Flat is an adaptation to hammering.

Michael McNeil said...

Arguably the great advantage of the newfangled codex over the older scroll type book during late Roman times was the transformation of a sequential access medium into random access, rather like the change from magnetic tapes to hard drives (with jumping to a different page being equivalent to a ‘seek’).

David said...

Alice Munro says it's perfectly acceptable to start reading a short story in the middle and then jump around. So much for linear, at least in her mind. (Her point is that she usually starts writing them in what turns out to be the middle, so what's the harm in reading from the middle too.)

The main question with the internet (books too) is how do you get from reading to thinking.

Does the internet help us to think better, or just expose us to more people willing to do our thinking for us?

Donna B. said...

I wish I'd been reading Althouse comments long enough to get the rh/chicken joke.

Maybe Ms. Althouse will do a post on reading between the lines?

KCFleming said...

Allow me to be the lone dissenter. I love reading on the internet, and also love reading books.

From Neil Postman's 'Amusing Ourselves to Death'

"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

...From Erasmus in the sixteenth century to Elizabeth Eisenstein in the twentieth, almost every scholar who has grappled with the question of what reading does to one's habits of mind has concluded that the process encourages rationality; that the sequential, propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter Ong calls the "analytic management of knowledge." To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance from the words themselves, which is, in fact, encouraged by the isolated and impersonal text. That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.
I do not mean to imply that prior to the written word analytic thought was not possible. I am referring here not to the potentialities of the individual mind but to the predispositions of a cultural mind-set. In a culture dominated by print, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas. The public for whom it is intended is generally competent to manage such discourse. In a print culture, writers make mistakes when they lie, contradict themselves, fail to support their generalizations, try to enforce illogical connections. In a print culture, readers make mistakes when they don't notice, or even worse, don't care.

...Books are an excellent container for the accumulation, quiet scrutiny and organized analysis of information and ideas. It takes time to write a book, and to read one; time to discuss its contents and to make judgments about their merit, including the form of their presentation. A book is an attempt to make thought permanent and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors of the past.

...Nonetheless, everyone had an opinion about this event, for in America everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different order from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us. What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of "being informed" by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information - misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information - information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?"

KCFleming said...

Shorter version;
Yes, if the random plunking of keys counts as playing the piano.

Michael A. Cleverly said...

<shameless-plug>About two months ago I started a blog experiment: Wisdom from the 42nd Page. I post the text of page 42 from three books per day (so I should have 1,095 after one year). How many people even look at 1,000 different books in a year? If they were to read my blog they could... :-)</shameless-plug>

lurker2209 said...

Craig Landon--

What's amusing about the internet obsession with Twilight in particular is that the heroine is a teenage girl who loves to read books--really, really difficult ones in fact. Her favorite is Wuthering Heights! I love Jane Eyre, but I found the younger Bronte sister often incomprehensible.

As for your daughter, Pride and Prejudice is, perhaps oddly, a favorite of girls of our generation. (I'm at the older end of the Millennials!) I recall a few years back on the TV show Veronica Mars, it was quickly and easily established that a new female character was a bit of a bitch when she confessed to hating the 6-hour BBC version with Colin Firth.

Ann Althouse said...

Re DVDs, I said "make us go to the movies." When you watch a DVD, you are not going to the movies. It is only the movie at the movies that controls you and requires you to go along with the linear time scheme of the creator.

Unknown said...

I have always been a voracious reader beginning at age 5 when I learned to read. Although I still manage to get through 2 national paper-print newspapers a day, I scan them online first after checking my favorite blogs (always Althouse!) -the internet allows superior editing by the reader himself.

My 20 year old son has a reading comprehension that tests in superior range (800 on SAT--verbal section and writing section) yet he hates to read and rarely reads "books". I worried about the effect this would have on his intellectual development during his grade school years, yet his vocabulary is excellent and he performs at honors level at a top 10 university. My older children, also verbally gifted, did and do read books. I think this is generational -- the younger the person, the less time he will spend on traditional print reading and more time online or reading material via some other electronic device such as the Kindle. This is progress. The instant availability of updated information--the immediacy--of the internet is an extraordinary resource for readers of all ages.

KCFleming said...

"The instant availability of updated information--the immediacy--of the internet is an extraordinary resource for readers of all ages."

Indeed it is. Postman's point was that -lacking the discipline of books- the very surfeit of information tends to engender a dearth of knowledge.

It's the same mistake that grade school teachers have made in teaching whole math (or whatever fad they're into this week). It's the same mistake libertines make , and socialists, for that matter.

All neglect the fact that to get the point that one can in fact quickly scan and discern wheat from chaff requires hours of hard work. Someone who starts at the level of scanning doesn't recognize that they don't know what they don't know. They are standing on the shoulders of giants and not only don't know this, they don't care, and treat the giants the same as the dwarves, and kick the whole thing to the ground.

Pretty soon we'll have a plethora of legal assistants, and no lawyers, millions of nurse practitioners, and no doctors, an army of designers, but no architects. Surface knowledge, living off the seed corn.

Anonymous said...

but will we have children with no parents?

asked by: stay at home parent whose meaning is not to infer guilt

Wayne said...

pogo - You're not a lone dissenter, though I was surprised to find so few who felt that way.

When you "start in the middle" of a book, you lose context. There is no clue as to why the events are occurring as they are, or why the characters are acting as they are. If you don't need this context, and the text is not about current events, where the context already exists, then it is not very deeply involved, and could probably be written in 1/4th of the space just as well.

Lack of context is a big factor in misunderstanding messages. In the quotes from Pogo:

That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.

I have seen people frequently take statements and focus on just one sentence, or even one portion of a sentence, and form a conclusion about the intent of a statement, completely ignoring the setups beforehand, the modifiers, and the context in general, and firmly believe that getting too much used to "scanning" things and "separating the wheat from the chaff", so that they separate the kernels too much from each other, thereby losing their meaning.

William said...

When I was young I read and frequently re-read the novels of Eric Ambler, C S Forrester, Mika Waltari, and Kenneth Roberts. Books were both a coccoon and an adventure. They gave me a sense of wisdom. Unlike my peers I prided myself in being aware of the lies and hypocrisy of pre-war Central Europe, regency England and the Pharonic court. I carried this wisdom lightly. It was better for my peers that they not know the hard facts I was privy to.....I suppose the internet is a superior way of sharing knowledge but there is no greater way of making life look magical on a rainy afternoon than a good book.

Richard Dolan said...

"Does reading on the internet count as reading?"

I suppose the answer depends on the point of drawing the distinction between the two formats and what the "reading" consists of. The parental comments quoted in the article suggest that reading in one format is the road to self-improvement adn Success in Life, while in the other it is the path of time-wasting frivolity and the Dissipation of Youth. That may tell you a lot about parental anxieties (the reference to the on-line kid's 800 score was perfect in more ways than one), but says nothing about the imagined intrinsic differences that a reader might experience by reading in one format rather than the other.

Towards the end, Ann says: "I cut to the essence quickly and spring into alert when I detect bullshit. I'm offended by padding, pedantry, and humorlessness." "Cut to the essence" and skipping "padding, pedantry and humorlessness" sound like sensible ways to approach a lot of writing (to say nothing of judicial opinions), perhaps especially academic legal writing. But it makes a lot less sense if what you're reading is poetry, or fiction, or something where style, mood and all of that are essential; or if making sense of what comes later in a text is the objective and depends on understanding what came earlier (anything technical, for example). In all events, if the point is that bad writing abounds and is best skipped, well, no argument there.

Things get a bit wacky when the edu-crats get in the act. For example, there is this gem: "'The question is, does it change your brain in some beneficial way?' said Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University. 'The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment. Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our brain will try and deal with it.'" So, the point of reading is to rewire the connections between axions. Who knew? Well, why not change that to: "Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our heart/legs/lungs/insert-your- favorite-body-part will try and deal with it." Works as well, and is just as accurate.

The real problem is that asking whether "reading on the internet count[s] as reading" is not a very interesting question.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

I think that blogging definitely changes writing style.

Look at Glenn Reynolds writing style back in 2001. He used to write paragraphs on instapundit.

The longer people are on the internet, the shorter and choppier their style tends to become.

For some people (like Dr. Reynolds) this works. For others, it's terrible.

I do think that the necessity of writing short, attention-grabbing, sections of text limits what blogging can do. I think a lot of writers should be doing something else.

Present company excluded, which is why I come here. But it's a talent not everyone possesses. I'm boring as hell if I don't have at least 10 pages to breathe in.

Salamandyr said...

John Lynch,

I'm not sure that's a fair description of Glenn Reynolds. While Instapundit has become more of a directory of things Glenn found interesting, it's because his more in-depth writing has spread into other areas, like Popular Mechanics, and SSRI. He's still writing, it's just not what Instapundit (the site) is for.

It seems like relatively few writers do the Instapundit style link-roundup. Most seem to be like Ann's, or Megan McArdles, or Volokh-occasional bite size morsels of thought, with the occasional full meal.

Then there's Lileks.

Anthony said...

All neglect the fact that to get the point that one can in fact quickly scan and discern wheat from chaff requires hours of hard work.

This is why I'm torn on this. On the one hand, I have something of a knee-jerk reaction against the books-are-the-height-of-intellectualism idea; OTOH, I do wonder how well one can really understand a subject by just reading what amount to magazine articles.

Of course, if we had a workable time machine we could probably go back and listen to Plato bitch about all those "damn kids these days" who just read the odd scroll here and there but don't really learn anything because they're not taking part in oral discussions with their learned elders. . . .

blake said...

The last two fiction books I read, I read online.

One was the aforementioned Pride and Prejudice, and for those of us who love Austen and other 19th century authors, Project Gutenberg is a joy.

The other was Turnabout by Thorne Smith, which was my first time reading (but not my first time reading Smith). His works are not out of US copyright, so I suppose I broke the law by reading them. (Come get me, coppers!)

I think I actually read faster online, and the beauty is, if your eyes get tired, you can scale up the print. Take that, paperback!

Revenant said...

Postman's point was that -lacking the discipline of books- the very surfeit of information tends to engender a dearth of knowledge.

There may once have been grounds for worrying that that *might* be true, but we know now that it isn't.

For starters, only a tiny fraction of nonfiction books are written for consumption by those entirely unfamiliar with their subject matter. Most books assume a greater or lesser degree of background knowledge. The problem, of course, is that the author has to guess at how much knowledge his audience has, so that he neither wastes time telling them what they already know nor skips over critical background knowledge they don't possess. The odds of any given book being a good match for a reader's existing knowledge are incredibly remote -- and of course you need to invest a lot of time and money in figuring out if the book is right for you. Hypertext and search functionality let you bypass those problems.

KCFleming said...

Hypertext and search functionality let you bypass those problems.

This also assumes those who click on search and hypertext know the subject as well. Some do, some do not.

Florence King:
"The latest assault on logic is the opera-backed commercial. In the one for a recreational vehicle, we first see the product covered with mud, then a titanic inundation of water comes out of nowhere and washes it clean while a soprano voice sings "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly. The same aria is used in another ad for athletic shoes, sung to visuals of stouthearted runners straining heroically toward a finish line. What is the connection here? The aria is about a girl who has been jilted and is too dumb to realize it.

Another one, for a luxury car or an aftershave, I forget which, shows a woman in a slinky black evening dress running across the lawn of a palatial estate at sunrise while a soprano voice sings "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. This aria has the melting quality of romantic passion but it isn't that at all. The title character of this one-act comic opera is a wily Tuscan peasant; the aria, sung by his daughter, starts, "Oh, my dearest Daddy," and is a plea for him to engage in trickery to get her a dowry.

Don't assume Madison Avenue is full of philistines: it isn't. They knew, all right, but they didn't care. Opera is perceived as classy, therefore products advertised with opera are perceived as classy, so don't worry about which aria you use as long as it "soars.""

blake said...

I don't see the big deal, Pogo.

After all, Mercedes Benz used Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz", without hint of irony.

Mark Daniels said...

Going back to your post, Ann, earlier today, I walked into the office and my secretary asked me, "Have you seen the obituary?" She was referring to the obituary for a member of our parish whose funeral I'll be conducting on Wednesday. She handed a copy of our local newspaper to me. I said, "I can read this online." She sighed. "What am I going to do with you?" she asked...good naturedly, I might add.

So, this "Does it count as reading?" comes into play as it applies to newspapers as well. Some people believe you must have a newspaper in your hand for it to be counted as reading. (In fact, my secretary went on to make this point.)

Not as it relates to newspapers so much, but relative to books, I must confess to being torn as to whether reading online, which I probably spend about an hour a day doing, really can be called "reading." That's because, most of what I read online is in the current events category. Little of it is the sort of more thoughtful creativity or reflection you find in books. In fact, I often feel that the more I read online, the less I've really read.

Mark Daniels

KCFleming said...


Like kids who wear Che t-shirts or buy USSR-themed clothing, unaware of any history because for them, if it ain't on the 'net, it doesn't exist (even if they themselves don't even know enough to find it on the internet).

Reading only ephemera, entertainment, and headlines on the internet (which I believe accounts for the bulk of people), but never books or researched papers, leaves one a jack of all trades (if that) and master of none.

Mark Daniels said...

Your comment above is basically what I was trying to say. Well put.

Mark Daniels

blake said...


Do you really think that the MB commercial audience didn't know that the song was actually critical of the materialism the commercial is essentially advocating?

I mean, yeah, they were probably stoned the last time they heard it but...

KCFleming said...

Most were.
You and maybe 27 others could correctly ascribe the anti-materialism to that song. Everyone else just remembers it has the words 'Mercedes benz' in it.

blake said...


You might be right. I should note that that commercial was the first time I heard that song, and I thought it was evident then.

But then I'm not in any of the demographics involved. So.

robsmoove said...

if itsnt reading then what is it if a man shits in the wood and another in a bathroom does that mean on is not really shiting (sorry for the dirty analogy)I was raised on reading on the the cp am 17 and i read fine and this my second language people who say other are just stuck in the old age and time will take care of them jk but damn yall catch up we in gear 3