I must admit that I’ve sometimes asked myself a question very similar to this. I’ve asked myself “Am I losing my short-term memory?” or “Am I losing my ability to concentrate for long periods of time, or to read long passages of text in one sitting?
I do believe that over the years of web surfing (which I’ve been doing since 1994 or 1995, when the first browsers became widely available), my ability to concentrate or my pattern of reading – the way in which I consume words – has been modified by the activity of surfing online. I do feel as if the hypertext, hunt ‘n click web has modified my behaviour. I can feel that I’ve become more of a browser than a reader.
Has Using the Web Trained me to Click Instead of Read?
It’s a fair question, as if the online world of information is like an endless, all-you-can-eat buffet. I may be in line to put together a meal from beginning to end, but the act of gathering what I need comes in little chunks, with possibilities for distraction at each new connection point. I’ll take a little bit of one site, a little bit of the next, etc. etc. Skip, skip, skip. Click, click, click. It’s more like an endless stream of consciousness, and it’s easy for me to get drawn off-course from an original train of thought onto something completely different. I think it must be the combination of my own curiosity and the seemingly endless array of links to other destinations.
But There’s a Physical Difference to Reading Online too…
I have always read, and I still love to read – novels, magazines, comics and graphic novels, and now more than ever, news and current events. But, I find reading from an LCD display to be much more difficult than reading from paper. Consistently more difficult.
I read a lot of text online, but it doesn’t mean that I’m no longer capable of reading a novel 0n paper. I love reading paper books and magazines (and even the occasional newspaper) – I’m just not quite to used to it as I was before.
So, I think the physicality of reading off a back-lit display of pixels (i.e. teeny little Light Emitting Diodes), combined with the click ‘n browser nature of hypertext brings me to a McLuhan-esque “Medium is the Message” realization:
I’m not getting dumber because of the Web, but I do think that the Web itself makes me read in a shallow way.
You know. The web made me do it.