Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I blame the Internet

Yesterday, I responded to a comment from Roger Green with the flip remark that “if I had to write by hand nowadays, I don't think even I could read it!” That’s actually no joke, and I blame the Internet for it.

Well, not the Internet, exactly, more like computers generally.

In high school, we were required to type our research papers to prepare us for university. Turned out to be a good idea, because it really was required there. This was before computers, so they were typed on a typewriter.

By the time I started my working life in the mid-1980s, we used a (shared) word processor to prepare documents for work, though I still had a typewriter at my desk. In those days, “word processor” referred both the dedicated, single-purpose computer used to produce documents and the people who used them all day (a bit like a “typing pool” in not-so-very-earlier days). The company I worked at had only the machines, not the job title.

As I moved into printing and graphics, I used, first, dedicated typesetting computers, then Apple Macintosh computers. I’ve never worked at a job where handwriting was used in anything more than an incidental way.

Over the years, my handwriting became increasingly illegible. I think it’s from lack of use and from impatience: I’m used to the speed of typing on a computer keyboard, and how easy it is to both correct mistakes and to revise a document.

However, I’ve had one thing that’s declined, I think, specifically because of the Internet: Reading. This, too, is something that evolved, helped by the fact that I’ve never been a fast reader. What’s changed is my patience has shortened, and that’s what I blame on the Internet.

On the Net, I can quickly find and read short articles on any number of subjects that interest me and, if I get bored, I can quickly move on to the next one. This ready access to a huge amount of information in short form is one of the strengths of the Internet (not that I’d know that at the moment…).

On the other hand, combined with television, it’s definitely shortened my attention span, and that, in turn, has reduced my patience with long-form writing. Not even technology—like reading on the iPad—has helped that.

But there’s one other, more unexpected result: I now seldom read anything but non-fiction. I think that the last novel I read (to completion…) was several years ago. The closest I get to a novel now is when I read someone’s account of an event they experienced, but that’s hardly the same thing. Interestingly, I do still read some poetry (though not in book form).

Instead, my reading time is taken up with news articles, studies, reports, blogs (of course) and, sometimes, printed magazines. I seldom read a newspaper, not even the free ones delivered to the house (because I read newspapers’ content online).

There are other barriers to reading—lack of time, for example—but even if they were removed, the other problem would remain. I think that I can fix that, and my bad handwriting, simply through practice and repetition and making the time to do so. When I do, I’ll congratulate myself on it, but I’ll continue to blame the Internet for causing the problem in the first place.

After all, doesn’t everyone blame the Internet for, well, everything?


amerinz's sis said...

Not being a fast reader must run in the family. I can't either. At least you remember what you read. I've lost the ability to remember, or at least instantly recall, what I've read. When reading a book, if it doesn't grab my attention in the first two pages, I'm bored and I'm done. Those that do, I'll read it to completion.

I don't like reading long text on the computer screen. I run out of patience. I'd much rather print it.

I blame my poor handwriting on note taking in college. I wanted to write every detail. Plus I tried to keep up with fast talking professors. Maybe that's why I liked my statistics classes. We learned, we wrote, we practiced.

Roger Owen Green said...

Sometimes, I feel as tho I have ADHD. For TV shows with commercials, in particular, rather than my usual record and watch, it's actually irritating, unless I'm reading a magazine at the same time to distract me from the ads.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Well, Sis, my memory ain't what it used to be! Which is why I love reading on computers, etc.: I can make immediate electronic notes that I can refer to.

Roger: I know exactly what you mean. I try and only watch TV shows that are recorded so I can skip the ads. Turns out, if I watch a live show—like the news—I end up mentally tuning out the commercials, anyway.