Ephemera

June 10, 2014

Ephemera: I just love the sound of that word…almost onomatopoeic!

I’ve been thinking about how my reading habits have changed since the arrival of the internet, and wondering about the implications of the changes.

For starters, I no longer buy, and read from cover to cover (apart from the sports pages) a daily newspaper. Partly this is because my newspaper of choice (The Guardian, since you ask) has changed markedly over the same time period, along with all the others: less serious news, and more froth, showbiz, personalities, lifestyle and consumption. Instead I ‘look through’ several newspapers online, and read the few articles that attract my interest. But: do I read them as carefully? do I take in as much of what I read? do I attribute the same weight and importance to those articles? I suspect not, because they are surrounded by dross.

I’ve pretty much given up on magazines, too. I still take National Geographic, partly for the stunning photography, and partly because it takes me to parts of the world I’ll never get to. But even its in depth articles are shorter and shallower that they used to be. The only periodical I’m really attached to is Le Monde Diplomatique, a serious, analytical current affairs monthly, which hasn’t succumbed to the trivialisation that I feel has gone on elsewhere . Can you see my dead colonel’s hat yet?)

Yet I love the wealth of writing I can access online… as a serious reader I can read some of the brilliant stuff on the London Review of Books site, and the New York Review of Books, and Magazine Litteraire. I get the selection of interesting stuff selected by the editors of Arts & Letters Daily. I can look at political reviews, computing magazines…anything I like.

So I read a lot online – or am I just grazing? time-wasting? being sucked in to a world of trivia (except, as you can see above, I’m kidding myself that it’s real quality high-brow trivia, not everyone else’s Mail Online rubbish) and neglecting the real world of books? And if I wanted to do something about avoiding all this eye-candy, could I?

I suppose this all brings me back to an issue that I’ve been interested in, and followed for quite a while now: the idea that reading online, with its ability to flit effortlessly from page to page and idea to idea via a wealth of hyperlinks, is changing the way we think, the way we interact with and process the content of text. Recently I’ve come across several references (online!) to the fact that many students prefer reading real printed textbooks because they feel that they actually take in more than from a digital text. Also, there’s the idea that reading a printed book, with its visual layout and the way we can use it, maps itself onto our brain in a more complete and useful way than a digital book can…

Somehow, when I can tell myself that this is happening to other people, I feel safer (perhaps more smug?!) than when I realise that something similar is happening to me.

Help!

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